Saturday 30 August 2014

Back From A Week In Devon

Sorry for my lack of comments or replies to comments left on my blog this week. I set up scheduled posts as I knew that we'd be away and it turned out we had no phone signal or wifi either. I think that turned out to be a really good thing and it was nice to have a break from it all (although I did manage to check on the blog a couple of times).
The first day was sunny!
 Our week away was in North Devon and although the weather wasn't amazing we had a great time with loads to do there. 
Sheer Bliss On Evs face as she met Peppa Pig!
 We went to the beach, had a day out at the big sheep (an adventure farm place for young kids) visited the zoo, went on a nice long walk, went to a car boot, flew kites and spent lots of time together as a family. 
The little one and my wife enjoying the rain!
A really nice week away and a nice way for my wife to finish off the summer holidays before we change roll again on Monday and she goes back to work and I stay at home to look after the kids. I'm really excited about being at home again and I've got lists of jobs, games and fun activities to do over the coming months as well as some interesting stuff for the blog. Now I'm off to check everyone's blogs that I've missed over the last week!

Friday 29 August 2014

Ripening peppers

Every year I grow chilli peppers and I always do well with them. Sweet peppers on the other hand normally elude me. I can grow the plants but the peppers never ripen properly, the skin is too thin and they don't change colour very well.
"Cherry Bomb" chilli peppers - meant to be like peppadews, I'll let you know when I've pickled them
This year I decided to try to tackle the problem because we eat a lot of peppers. I decided to just grow a variety that's meant to have small peppers that are quick and easy to ripen due to it's small size. These "Mini Bell" peppers have been growing well in the greenhouses this year and we've had one ripen so far with loads nearly ready (I feel a gult coming on). We ate the first one straight off the bush, I don't think I've ever eaten one so sweet in all my life, it was delicious!
My small sweet peppers "mini bell"
So if anyone else struggles with peppers like I did then I can recommend growing a smaller variety to try to get them to ripen quicker and have thicker flesh. 
Unless anyone has got any tips on getting peppers to ripen faster or grow better?

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Glueing My Shoe

The other day I was trying to glue my work trainers back together and thinking that it's probably only people who read my blog that would understand why I bother to do things like this!
Staring to fall apart
 It's not being tight, as some of my friends would have you believe, it's making the most of what I've got. I've not worn these steel toe capped trainers very much (I prefer boots, but during the hot summer I do like something a little cooler on my feet) and they were quite expensive (Dewalt) so I'm annoyed that they've started to fall apart already. I'm not going to rush out and buy some new ones if I can repair these myself.
Clamped up
This isn't something new with me, when my wife and I first got together she used to get annoyed at my trainers that I had then. I had glued them together 8 times in different places and when she brought me some new ones for Christmas I said I'd wear them when my others wore out!
Being frugal is hard sometimes, even if the hardest part is justifying it to other people! 
What's the most number of times you've repaired something before chucking it out?

Monday 25 August 2014

Chicken Weeding

I'm a firm believer in everything on our homestead has to earn it's keep. 
That even goes for the chicks, although they're too small to lay any eggs or be really productive but I can get them doing something - weeding!
The chicks and mum needed a bigger home
 They needed moving out of their ark, but with the predators around here they still needed to be contained so I thought I'd build them a temporary pen in the veg garden. That way they can eat down (and muck) a veg plot and save me some work.
The plot on the end has gotten a little over grown!
The pen didn't take long to put up as I got given some fence panels a couple of years ago and they're great for making something like this. I built a little coop for them to sleep in last year that's perfect for the size they are at the moment.
building a makeshift pen out of some panels I was given

Happy in their new place

Doesn't even look too bad in the veg garden
Anyone else using "animal weeders" in a controlled way?

Saturday 23 August 2014

Companion Plants

I'm not massively into companion planting. I think if you've got a garden full of everything then things tend to turn out okay.
The Enemy 
But when I look at my nasturtiums and see they're covered in caterpillars (and holes) and my brassicas have a lot less on them, I can see the benefits of having these companions plants in the garden
My nasturtium are looking a little holey now though
  Most of my nasturtiums are self set, and they come up everywhere. I tend to leave them in if they're in the corner of a bed and most of my sixteen beds have at least 2 plants growing in them. They look pretty, give me flowers for salads, seeds for "poor mans capers" and also attract the cabbage white butterfly away from my more useful plants.
The brassicas have plenty of holes but they'll survive!
Does anyone else grow many plants to lure the pests away from their main crops?

Thursday 21 August 2014

Make The Ordinary Come Alive

I think this sums up how I feel about bringing up my children.
It's by William Martin from a book called "The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents"
 I just really liked this so sorry if it's a little off topic for me! I just hate it when I see parents pushing hard for their child to be "great". All I ever want is for mine to grow up happy and appreciate the little things in life that make it all special and not worry about the bigger picture too much, life has a way of working things out for you anyway...

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Roast Tomato Soup

After reading Gills post on using up the tomatoes I thought I'd add our roasted tomato soup to the mix. Every summer we make this soup and it's easily our favourite. 
Fresh tomatoes
 Get as many ripe tomatoes as you can find. cut the big ones into chunks and the rest just scatter in a roasting dish, peel a few cloves of garlic and chop some shallots in half. Pour over some olive oil and add the rosemary, mix it all up and bung in the oven for twenty minutes or so - until they start to brown ever so slightly to give that roasted taste.
Tomatoes, shallots, garlic and rosemary roasted in the oven
 Blend this mixture then add some vegetable stock until you get the consistency you like. We never bother to sieve it but if you like your soup smooth then it's easy done. We like this recipe because it's so easy and fuss free, normally we do a big batch with a couple of roasting trays full of tomatoes and freeze whatever we don't eat
All blended together and not sieved. Great served with fresh bread.

The little one seemed to like it as well!
How does everyone else make they're own tomato soup?

Sunday 17 August 2014

Good Storage Ability!

I know I'm always going on about how wonderful squash are but here's some more proof (as if you needed it)! 
I cut this squash in half the other day and it was still edible. Bear in mind that this was harvested form the end of September last year! The skin was rock solid and I did think it was hollow inside when I cut it using a shovel, but it smelt fine and the flesh was the same as ever. 
If you want a food key to self sufficiency that involves very little effort in storage then this is the one for you! We just put them in a box in the dinning room, once we've ripened them, and take them out as we need them.
What's your favourite veg for good storage?

Friday 15 August 2014


I've grown cucamleons this year for the first time. In fact I'd go so far as to say that I'd never heard of them before I read James Wongs Home-grown Revolution back in the spring.
They've received a bit of bad press from some people, but all I can say is my wife and kids love them! 
The spindly vine grows like crazy and each plant has loads of these little melons on at any one time. They seem pretty trouble free, I've been treating them the same as my cucumbers, they live in the greenhouse, get watered every night and fed with home-made tomato food every third night. Lots of tasty little veg for the girls to snack on when they're "helping" daddy in the garden!
Anyone else tried them yet?

Wednesday 13 August 2014

A Low Meat Summer

I always used to joke with guests that there was a vegetarian option in our house - they could #@$* off!

But our ideas on food have been changing a lot lately. 
We've not been basing our meals around the item of meat we have with it. Instead we've been looking at what vegetables we've got and going from there. The internet is great for ideas, as are other blogs and recipe books.  
So now when we sit down for tea we're not saying it's such-and-such meat with veg for tea, we're making a much bigger deal about he veg we're using. 
It's been a great few months eating like this, although I'm not sure our butcher would agree.
What's everyone's favourite vegetarian meal?  Mine is either my wife's tomato tatin (posted on here last week) or a peach and chickpea curry from "A girl called Jack" cookbook.

Monday 11 August 2014

Inside My Greenhouses

I've never done so well for things grown under glass as I have this year. 
Chilli peppers lining the long shelf in the greenhouse
 Everything is growing like mad and I think it's down to a combination of things (obviously the second greenhouse helps as well) -
A glorious summer - the sunshine has been great for everything in the garden and it's helped all the pollinating insects as well.
The potting mix seems to be working really well, I did plant a few tomatoes in just compost and they seem to dry out much faster than the others. A mix of soil, compost, blood fish and bone, wood ash and chicken mature pellets seems to be the way forward. In fact it's cheaper than just compost!
The size of my pots - the buckets seem to be a great way of growing things, they hold so much more water, I only water once a day and they never really dry out, hopefully they should last a good few years and stack together for easy storage over winter.
My tomato food - I've been alternating between nettle tea and comfrey tea. Feeding them much more often than I would of if I was buying it, everything seems to be growing like crazy. I plan to plant a large area of comfrey soon - I've got about 20 plants ready to be planted out. Free, organic plant food is the way forward, everyone should try it!
A wall of tomatoes - 18 plants in all

Different shapes and sizes - all taste amazing!

Cucumbers, melons, and cucucmelons in the smaller greenhouse

Sweet peppers in the small greenhouse

My first ever melon - should I support it? 
I'd like to change my smaller 8ft x 6ft greenhouse for a bigger one as well next year but I've probably got jobs that are more important to take care of!
How is everyone else's greenhouses doing?

Saturday 9 August 2014

The Day I Nearly Broke My Back

A Year Ago

All I could think as I lay on the wreckage of the stairs there was that I was paralysed.  I could feel blood running down my arm and everyone shouting my name. For our first morning in France it wasn't going well.

It had all started with a phone call. One of my best mates, and a fellow carpenter, had rung me up about a trip to France to go and do a job for a week, would I be interested as he couldn't do it. The money was good and it sounded like a bit of adventure, just what I was in need of as I’d been working on the same house for 18 months and I was feeling a little stale.

I rung the firm, someone I had worked for 10 years previous, everything was paid for, hotel, food, etc. All I’d needed was a work mate and my tools. The job was fairly simple, install some stairs and second fix a house.

I knew straight away the carpenter I wanted to take with me. He’s one of the most energetic blokes I've ever met and one of the very few that I rate to be as good as I am (sounding big headed now but never mind) I rang him up. “Tom , what are you like at fitting stairs? And do you fancy a week in France?”

We were all set, they even sent someone to the passport office for me to pick me up a new passport, and on a Saturday morning we set out for France in two rental vans. We were accompanied by our drivers Ricky, a plasterer and jack of all trades, and Paul, who was coming along for the ride. The journey was eventful, we missed our ferry but they just put us on the next one.

As we stood looking at the white cliffs and leaving England behind, Tom said “I've never fitted stairs before…”

We arrived late that night, the owner of the hotel cooked us a huge BBQ and we went to sleep happy.  The next morning we arrived at the job and started to have a look round. Straight away we could see problems, The door linings they had brought with them were the wrong size, and as we unpacked the stairs I could see that they had been made to measure but with no tolerance what-so-ever to get them in.

We got to work, assembling the bits we could and laying it all out. It’s important to methodical with a job like fitting stairs, if you do something in the wrong order then the chances are it won’t go together. The instructions were as much use as an empty crisp packet so we set about measuring up and marking the walls where everything was going to go.

The stairs turned a full 180 degrees as they came down but we could see that all the walls were too tight to get any of it in. Basically they’d designed it to be airlifted in with the roof off. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We started by putting the top treads and newel posts together and when we lifted it up we could see straight away that we were going to have to cut the wall away to get them in.

We wedged them in place, I held the top and Tom started to mark the underside.

That’s when it happened. The wall broke on the far side of the stairs. Instinct takes over and I grabbed the top of the newels to try to prevent the oak stairs from landing on Tom.

They went down anyway, somersaulting me over the top of them. When I landed, after the 3m fall, I was facing the other way. The lower half of my back was on the sharp string (the thick bit on the side of the stairs) and my arm had a nasty cut on it. I just lay there for a few seconds.

Weird things go through your head when something like that happens; I just thought I wasn't going to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle. I remember I wiggled my toes before I did anything else, then the adrenalin kicked in and I got up and lay down on the floor face down. The others said later that they thought it was like something out of a car crash where the victim walks around with a broken leg without realising it. I lay for a few minutes, Tom was unharmed, a small scratch down his leg, but luckily he’s pretty quick and managed to jump out the way.

The guys wanted to take me to hospital but I was feeling alright by then. We patched up my arm at the van and I told them that if I stopped I’d seize up, best to keep working. Within 15 minutes we were back at it.

It was only later that night, as I lowered myself painfully into an empty bath and ran the water with me already in it, that I stopped to think about what had happened.  In the end it was a combination of my good luck and my thick leather belt I always wear that had saved me. The point of the stairs I had landed on was right on the belt and it must have spread the pressure and turned it into a nasty bruise rather than anything more serious. The bottom of my back went black with the bruise and was still there after I got home a week later.

It’s funny, in the building we always talk about health and safety gone mad, but when you’re fitting stairs you have to have the safety rail removed, it simply can’t be done with it still in place. In hindsight we should have cut a few props and wedged it in place, and I'm sure we will in future, but then we didn't know they’d slip like that in the first place. I was always told I was born lucky and this was one of the days when I realise its true!

Then Ricky nearly killed us all on the way back but that’s a story for another time…. 

Thursday 7 August 2014

Tomato Tarte Tatin

We've so many tomatoes at the moment it's tricky to know what to do with them all.
One of our favourite meals with them is this tarte tatin.
Simply fill a roasting dish with cherry tomatoes, a good glug of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, some chopped up rosemary and thyme. Then roll out the puff pastry to fit the dish then spread pesto over it and place it face down on the dish. Tuck in the edges and roast for about 30 minutes until the pastry is cooked and golden.
This is a lovely easy dish served with some other summer veg and new potatoes. 
Also if it's all home grown it works out to be very cheap as well!

Tuesday 5 August 2014

11 Questions

The lovely Dawn from Doing it For Ourselves has nominated me for Liebester. Here's what she put:

11 Questions for Kev

  1. Your favourite time of year
  1. Your least favourite vegetable
  1. What trends did you follow as a teenager
  1. Favourite radio station
  1. What DIY do you dislike
  1. What were you doing when Elvis died
  1. Favourite time of day
  1. What is the naughtiest thing you did as a child
  1. What Celebrity would you invite to Sunday lunch
  1. What did you have for breakfast 
  1. Were would you like to be in 10 years.

1. My Favourite time of year? There are so many! I guess I love the long summer evenings and wearing shorts for months on end. 

2. Celery. I fail to see the point in adding it to anything!

3. Well I was (read - still am) a bit of geek. Imagine a less cool (and less funny) version of the Inbetweeners and you'll be somewhere near. I did used to like model making and I spent a lot of time on a tractor or with stock on the farm, not sure if I ever fell into a trend though. I probably wasn't cool enough to be in a trend!

4. Favourite radio station - Just lately I've been listening to Radio 6 and really enjoying it, it makes me remember why I used to be into my music!

5. DIY I dislike? Anything to do with plumbing! I hate doing it (although I always do it rather than getting a plumber in) and I always worry about it leaking!

6. When Elvis died I wasn't even a glint in my fathers eye! I was born some 6 years later!

7. My favourite time of day is evenings. I'm a night owl so I love reading the girls a story and then seeing what jobs I can get done.

8. Naughtiest thing as a child? I was fairly well behaved as a child (or so I think). I even rang mum and dad and asked them - the only thing they can remember was hiding some kittens from them, so my brother and I could play with them. They meowed and gave us away! We did get fleas though so I guess the cat had the last laugh!

9. Celebrity to lunch? I'm not into celebrities really so I think I'd have to go for someone like Ray Mears so I could ask him question after question!

10. Breakfast? Muesli I was trying to be quick.

11. 10 years from now I'd like to still be here, surrounded by my family, with no mortgage if I had a choice in the matter! 

And 11 random things about me:
1. I converted an old ambulance and drove it all around Europe with my wife.
2. I don't like lending my tools to anyone.
3. I didn't have a next door neighbour until I was 24.
4. I love driving a transit van and even if I won the lottery I think I'd still have one.
5. I don't like any team sports.
6. I've planted over 500 trees here in the last two and a half years
7. The first time I went abroad without my parents I was 19 and I went for 3 months backpacking.
8. I've gone coast to coast across America by greyhound bus.
9. I talk too much at times.
10. I hate the taste of tea so much I won't even kiss my wife if she's had some.
11. I was head boy of my school.

I won't forward these questions on as I'm not sure who has done this and who hasn't but I might steal Julees Grays idea and ask everyone a question - 
What book changed you the most?
For me it was when I read the River Cottage Cookbook and decided that was the way forward. Everything changed from then on!

Monday 4 August 2014

Firewood From Work

As many of my regular readers will already know, when I'm not a stay-at-home-dad, I go off to work as a self employed carpenter. It's a job I really enjoy and it has a few perks. One of which is taking all the waste wood and off-cuts home
The pile was growing slowly...
 I'm quite diligent at bringing these off-cuts home. I always tidy up each night before I leave where ever I'm working and I bring the wood home each night and chuck it in my lean-to shed on the drive. This does not look very tidy and I sometimes wonder if its worth it. 
I had an afternoon yesterday chopping up all these bits, making sure they'd fit on our fire before being put into the proper woodshed. Turns out there was quite a bit there! Mainly pine with a mix of oak, popular, sapelle and walnut.
Chopped up ready for the fire.
We shouldn't be short of kindling this year! 
Anyone else have a job with a low budget perk?

Saturday 2 August 2014

Why Round Bales?

We baled our hay at the start of this week - our big farming endeavour every year!
Bales in the sunshine
 We round bale ours and the other day someone asked me why. We could make much more money from them if we baled it into small square bales and sold them through the winter. Our main issue with that, other than very few contractors will bale them like that anymore, is we have no storage for them. 
Bales in the rain
One day we will build a barn to store our bales in (if we can get planning), but in the meantime we will keep having round bales. These can spend a bit of time in the rain without getting too damaged and they are easily transported away from our little smallholding - sold off the field. It's a good job too with all the rain we've been having over the last couple of days!
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