Monday, 31 March 2014

Homemade Bird Apple Feeder

In the UK it was Mothers Day yesterday. It's always tricky to know what to get my mother and as my two girls are too young to get anything for my wife that responsibility falls to me as well. They're both good mothers though so I don't mind!
 I decided to make something that they would both like. An apple bird feeder as they both enjoy watching the birds at their bird tables.
 I started with some oak off cuts (from a job a few weeks ago, destined for the fire), I drew out the shape of an apple, and with my drawing skills this was no mean feat, then cut it out with the jig saw.
 This was quite hard going as oak is never the easiest wood to cut. I had to spend quite a bit of time sanding it up afterwards. I then cut the top to a nice angle, added a bottom so they birds had somewhere to land.
 I then drilled a hole either side for the bamboo skewer and a hole at the top for hanging it up.

 I then gave them a coat of oil and hung them up to dry.
Hopefully the birds will be able to enjoy some of our old apples and we'll be able to enjoy watching them!
Both mothers seemed please with the gifts. Anyone else made a mothers day gift this year?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

10 minute path

One of the mistakes I made when I first moved here was thinking that I wanted to build everything so it was permanent. In my head I didn't want to do things that I'd have to redo at a later date.
On the face of it this seemed like a good idea, but it actually stopped me from doing projects as I thought I hadn't got the time or funds to complete it properly.
So I changed my out look and I no longer mind doing things for a temporary solution.
Like this roughly laid path by the side of our house. It doesn't look great but it keeps every ones feet out of the mud when we use the back door. It didn't cost anything to lay (the slabs are all second hand) and it only took me ten minutes to chuck them down. But now I'm walking over them without having to wash off my boots every time I go back to the house, I'm wondering why I didn't do this at the start of the winter. The path is right where our extension is going to go, so it's definitely temporary, and that's what probably put me off doing it in the first place.
I had the same type of problem with the old rickety wood shed when we first moved here. I didn't use it to store the firewood that first winter because I wanted to rip it down, when actually I used it last winter to keep our wood dry and it performed well and until we've got something else to replace it I'll keep using it. It's a temporary, low cost solution to the problem but at the moment that's all we can do and it's still better than having wet firewood.
Anyone else built any temporary projects lately?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

£3 Family Day Out

It was my wife's birthday last week so to surprise her I took the day off to take us all to the safari park.
 We went to the park, saw lots of animals, had a great time and the total spend of the day was £3 (not including fuel).
 How come? Well we had to buy some food for the animals and that's why we spent the £3 pounds (if I'd been thinking right I could have taken some corn instead!).
My wife had ordered tickets using our Tesco clubcard points a while back (from our credit cards that we never pay any interest on). This lets you use £10 worth of vouchers for two adult tickets (normally £17.99 each) that have an expiry of about 6 months.
We also took a picnic lunch that I made up before we left, this means that we didn't have to spend any money on expensive "captive market" food but I included plenty of goodies but nothing that wasn't on our usual shopping list.
As our children are still young we also didn't have to go on any of the rides (there is no way you'd get Ev on one she's such a wimp) so that saved money again but there was so much to see and do that we didn't feel like we were missing out by not going on the rides anyway.
It was a really good day out and lovely to see how magical a safari park is to a two year old, but also it's great to put in to practise going out for the day on a budget without feeling like your missing out. We were also given a free return visit whenever we want over the next six months so their could be another cheap day out at some point.
Anyone else have any good tips for cheap family days out?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Stone Fruit & Pear Grafted

I feel much better now I've started to do this years grafting.
Today I managed to graft all my cherry, plum and pear rootstock's.
Some of the completed grafts
The cherries have been grafted with a few older varieties  like "Van" and "morrollo" then some more modern ones like "Summers Sun" and "penny". I only did ten trees as the dwarfing rootstock's I wanted weer quite expensive. I plan to plant all of these, when they've left the nursery bed, in the orchard, quite close together so they can be netted easily.
The 15 pears were a good selection of what I could find locally, from the basic but lovely "Conference" to the more unusual "Court du Lame" (I've just googled this one and found nothing so maybe I've written it down wrong) and I also grafted a medlar on one as well.
The plum rootstock's were used for 4 different varieties of plum and also an apricot "Novi Sad" and nectarine "Lord Napier". These more warm climate fruit should give me a bit of a challenge in years to come (anyone have any luck with apricots over here or am I just dreaming?)!
I set myself up in the greenhouse just in case it rains...

Turned out to be a good plan - shame I put the washing out to dry first thing!

All the grafted trees waiting for their nursery bed to be dug over ready.
For the grafts I used the whip and tongue graft (Have a look in my blog here, here and here for more information on grafting) but I must confess to using insulation tape to secure them together, as the ones I did with it last year seem to work just as well as the ones done using proper grafting tape and wax, I guess time will tell on that one.
So that's 40 grafts down just 100 apple tree grafts to go! Anyone else grafting this year?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Ground Layering Fig Trees - Part 2

Back in July last year I did a post on ground layering fig trees and today I dug them up to see how they did.
 The first one came up with good roots growing where it had been in the soil, so I was optimistic about the others.
 However that optimism was misplaced as the rest had either a tiny bit of root on or none at all. Only a 40% success rate with just two showing roots out of a possible five.
In future I think I'll stick with taking cuttings from fig trees as they worked well in the past (see my two other posts here and here) and it's less work as once the cuttings have taken they're already in the pot so no need to handle them twice.
Ground layering works well with some plants (like hazel or blackberries) so I'll use this method with other things and I might give air layering a try later in the year as another method of propagation. What methods of propagating trees and bushes does everyone else use and do you all experiment with new methods?

Friday, 21 March 2014

Saturday Morning Fun

I remember my Saturday mornings used to be quite different.
Now when I'm lay in bed, my wife rolls over, snuggles in close and whispers softly in my ear
"The kitchen sink is leaking".
 Not what I had planned. Whoever bodged this sink before me didn't do a great job. It only took me about 5 minutes to find out why it was leaking, it was blocked up right at the end in the drain and then backing up and coming out of the washing machine waste. This had wrecked the unit under the sink even more than it already was, the wet slowly destroying it and making it fall apart. I like the fact that it has doors on it though, so I can close them and forget about it our slowly distorting kitchen unit.
I fixed the leak by removing the blockage and cutting the pipe a bit shorter to stop it happening again. I also check the U bend to make sure that was clear. Then just as I was about to pack up and put my stuff away a fitting burst.
I hadn't even touched it, but it just started spraying water everywhere. I tuned off the water and removed the faulty fitting. It was a Y splitter I had brought off eBay, it felt cheap when I fitted it and I was right, it was cheap crap. The thing had split down the middle. Luckily it had happened when I was there or it would have been a right mess.
The new and the old fitting
So my Saturday morning was finished off with a trip to the plumbers merchants (with my two year apprentice in tow) to buy a fitting that cost £2, I think it cost more than that in fuel.
Although it cost me most of my morning to put these things right, I wonder how much it would have cost to get a plumber in to do it all for me? Sometimes it's good to be self reliant!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Trading Skills - Orchard Renovation

My friend Sean who did the plastering when we renovated the living room, didn't want payment when he did the work for me, instead he wanted to have some favours in the bank for work he wanted done at his place. I almost prefer this trading of skills rather than handing over money - the trouble is I assumed he'd want my carpentry skills!
 Sunday morning I went to his to begin to pay him back. In the recent storms he had a plum tree half blown over and caught up in a pine tree next to it. This is in his little 1 acre orchard that's not had any work done to the trees in a long while.
The tree, although not massive, was in a quite a dangerous place as the weight of them was being supported by a few branches of this other tree. It had to come down with my help or fall down sometime soon.
 Although I have a chainsaw I'm no expert, unlike my tree surgeon brother, but luckily I've worked with him enough to know what to do and how to approach the job. I must say that since buying our smallholding my skills with a chainsaw have increased dramatically! 
I slowly worked on the tree making sure I tidied up as I went along, to reduce the number of hazards I was working around, and this way I was just left with the branches that were hung up in the other tree with nothing else obstructing them.
 Then it was a simple matter of a few well placed cuts and letting it fall to the ground. I was quite pleased with myself that it went so well!
 I then logged it up for Sean and left him with a big pile of brash to clean up!
Before I went we set our "tree karma" straight and planted three trees that I had brought with me to replace the one that was cut down. We planted a cherry, pear and apple, the apple. Sean's son Oliver  helped, he seemed to really enjoy digging the holes and getting the trees in - I wonder if he wants to help me plant a couple of hundred willow cuttings?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Buds Are Breaking

Everything seems really far ahead this year - except me!
I've hardly started in the garden and I'm already about two weeks behind!
On the bright side my hawthorn hedge seems to be coming to life. All the buds are breaking on these trees that little bit earlier due to their "mini greenhouse" rabbit guards.
Is everyone else already playing catch up with the season or is it just me? I plan to plant a lot of seeds over the next week or so!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Our Oak Floor "Investment"

When we fitted our oak floor last year I'm sure to some people thought that it was a little extravagant to people that preach about frugality, but to us it was an investment.
And looking back on it six months later I can safely say that it was a good investment.
If we had fitted a new carpet instead then we would be replacing it again about now. We have a very lovely baby that is sick a lot (for the first four months she'd be sick at least 4 times a day) and a very messy two year old, between them they could wreck a carpet in a little under a day.
 
There are some disadvantages to having wooden floors. They're harder if you slip, fall or drop something (our two year finds this out quite often (the slipping and falling - not being dropped!)). And although a wooden floor is easier to clean it need to be done more often and it never feels as cosy under your toes as a carpet (we all wear slippers all the time so don't notice this one).
 
For me, having an oak floor was an easier decision to make. Being a carpenter I can fit it for nothing, this reduced the price to the point where it was only going to be an extra £500 pounds for oak compared to having a good quality carpet and underlay fitted, this also meant that it was within our budget for the room. Another advantage was that as I fitted a solid oak floor, rather than a laminate, if the finish is ever looking a little tired, scratched or worn I can just sand it all back and completely refinish it saving even more costs in the future.
 
I think in our situation we made the right choice with the floor and although it was expensive at the time it will be here for a lot longer than a carpet or a laminate substitute, meaning that over time it will save us a lot more than it cost us.
Anyone else made an investment that someone else thought was a bit of an extravagance?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Sell By Date

A lot of people I know chuck out food once it's gone past it's sell by date without even looking at it.
I remember, years ago, travelling across American by Grey Hound bus with a friend who made me chuck away cheese between hostels as it had been out of the fridge for too many hours!
I'm not at all like that and refuse to chuck anything away until it's been smelt and tasted.
I ate this yogurt last night and it tasted perfectly normal. But being two and a half weeks "off" I wonder how many people would have just chucked it away without even opening it? I think a lot of it comes with this live style we have chosen, when your preserving and storing a lot of your own food you have to start using your own judgement again rather than just trusting what's written on a packet.
 
What's the longest time past a sell-by-date that anyone has eaten something and which foods do you avoid risking it with?

Sunday, 9 March 2014

First BBQ of the year

Like many Brits today we had an impromptu BBQ to make the most of the sunshine we were due.
I decided yesterday when the guy I was working for said that they were having one due to the forecast - the seed had been sown! I phoned up some friends to see if they wanted to come over. They were all keen - but Justin asked the fatal question - "Do you want me to bring anything?"
"Er... A barbecue maybe." was my reply.
Ours had cooked it's last meal back in the summer. It had become so rusty and wobbly that the slightest movement on the grill meant it would lurch about like a drunk man making you fear for the safety of your meat!
 In the end he brought two barbecues with him and we set ourselves up a little "toddler proof" area to cook in.
The "mans" area behind the mesh! No toddlers aloud!
 The second, smaller, barbecue was his idea, it was to smoke a whole chicken. filled with white hot coals and then layered with massive amounts of  rosemary and bay leaves, the lid was placed back on and the chicken smoked away happily for two hours.
Smoked chicken - it was good!
When we got it out the meat was beautifully juicy and the skin tasted amazing, we'll be smoking food again that's for sure.
We slowly cooked and ate all afternoon and had a really nice lazy day with the children running around and having fun.
Having this barbecue has made me really determined to cook outside more this year and I want to build myself a really good cooking area and grill.
Has anyone got themselves a good cooking and eating area outside? The Americans seem to be kings of this and whenever I google it I'm always amazed at what they come up with.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Stock Fencing - Putting In Posts

Over the past few years I've got much better at putting in fence posts. I guess from necessity.
A rather unflattering picture of myself putting rabbit fencing up in my mothers garden a couple of years ago. The post basher was made by my father.
 The most basic method I use is a two handed post driver.  I always start the posts by first using a large iron bar that I work into the soil to make a "pilot" hole. I then tap the post in with a sledge hammer, I won't knock them in all the way with just a sledge hammer as it always seems to wreck the top of the posts.
Once the post is started in the ground I start using the post rammer. Just lift it up and slam it back into the post, not a huge amount of skill needed but it takes a fair bit of strength. After a few hours of putting in posts this way  you can see why mechanical methods were invented! 
It's still a handy method for putting in posts where machinery can't get to or if the ground is soft. Just be careful if you use one of these, as you never want to lift it higher than the post or it might catch the top as you bring it down and you loose your teeth in the process!
Using the loader to push the posts in
 The next method we used was the front loader on the tractor. This method is very quick with small to medium diameter posts, but it's difficult to keep them upright. Dad made a simple jig to stop the posts slipping off the tines and in the end it was taking longer to move the tractor to the next point than to put the posts in.
The dangling ratchet strap serves as a crude depth stop.
 I'm lucky as with my father being a farmer I have access to a lot of kit (and knowledge) that your average smallholder might not, without it all costing a lot of money to buy or hire.
The big machinery needed to push posts in like that
 The last method we've used is the purpose made post rammer that fits on the back of the tractor. These are hydraulically powered and quite dangerous if you're not paying attention.
We used two different types. Ken, our neighbour, had an old offset one that would knock them in steadily, whilst you stood at the side of the tractor operating the controls and keeping the post upright.
Ken using his own little tractor and off set post basher. Note the metal ring on a pole to keep the posts upright but also top keep his hands far away from danger.
The other one we used was a massive rear mounted one where you had to back up to each post. This one was great for knocking in our huge corner and gate posts (old telegraph poles) but it was too violent for the smaller posts, with the plate that they sat into being too big, so when it struck them the posts would move all over the place or break.
A professional post basher - not as handy to use as we thought.
Nearly all the posts have been put in now (using all the methods), with just a few left to put in by hand and the wire to go up on about half of it. Fencing can seem a little never ending!
How does everyone else go about putting their fence posts in?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Storing Grafting Wood

In the fridge, above the yogurts and beside the butter, there is a bag of wood.
Keeping this sort of thing in our fridge is not completely unusual in our house.
The bags contain scion wood of 18 different varieties of apple, cherry, apricot, plum and pear trees that I will use for grafting at the end of this month. Each variety is stored with a wet bit of newspaper around it's base and then wrapped in cling film with a label stating what tree it is. I check these every few weeks to make sure they haven't dried out and they are kept so they won't ever freeze.
I found quite a bit of conflicting information about storing scion wood on a small scale so I hope this is the best way. Anyone else storing scion wood at the moment?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Apple Pancakes

With Shrove Tuesday being just around the corner I decided to make some apple pancakes last night as a "practise run".
Some Scotch Bridget apples for the mix
 I practically grew up on these things as they were quite a regular pudding for us as kids. We loved them and would only stop eating them when the mixture had run out. Sometimes mum would do extra, but somehow we'd still eat the lot!
Really simple to make:

Ingredients
2 eggs
4oz of self raising flour
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
1/4 pint of milk
Knob of butter
2 large cooking apples (or in this case three medium ones)
Mix it all together
Mix the flour, milk, eggs, butter and sugar together into a thick batter. Then peal, core and grate the apples and add to the mix.
Heat a frying pan until it's really hot and then spoon in the mixture to give yourself tea cake sized pancakes (about three to a pan).
Fry them up using only a tiny amount of oil in a non stick pan
Serve with a little golden syrup on top whilst still hot. Or alternatively leave them to go cold and have them in your lunch box the following day!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Hidden Eggs

Some of my chickens have learnt that if they get out I'm not too bothered about putting them back during the day so long as they go back in at night.
But this one has been taking the mickey!
A dozen eggs hidden away right by the side of the house. I walk past it at least four times a day, but they were so well hidden I never saw them!
In the spring I wouldn't mind so much if she came back with a group of chicks but having these eggs left out in the rain is a bit of a waste. Never mind, I'll have to keep a better eye on them from now on! she might be less inclined to go walk about now anyway as I've moved their pen away from all the mud (this did involve me falling straight into the mud whilst I was trying to do it).
Anyone else stumble upon batches of eggs hidden in plane view?
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