Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Building A Greenhouse Base

I've been on about getting my "new" greenhouse up for ages now and time is rapidly ticking away until I'll really need it. 
On Friday dad sprung the news on me that he was going to give me a hand on Sunday and to make sure I was ready!
 The trouble is where I wanted to put the greenhouse has been, how should I put this, somewhat neglected.
 A few hours moving bit of rubbish and chopping down all the nettles and I was ready for dad to arrive.

 As usual he arrived in style! A trailer full of stuff and the knowledge that we'd have a hard afternoon a head of us!
 It's pretty handy having a dad that has a digger (well multiple diggers) and is rather good when he's in control of it! The site slopes quite a bit (probably around 18" over the 12ft) so we levelled it off first, making a large pile in the garden to be moved at a later date. 
 Then using a narrower bucket on the digger we dug a strip for the foundations of the greenhouse, levelled it up and began mixing concrete.
 It took around 20 barrows of concrete for the base. As I took this picture dad shouted "Is that so you can remember what I was like before you killed me!" I guess that we were working rather hard on a Sunday afternoon.
 The 12ft by 8ft strip foundation. I'll lay a concrete block one layer high all round this and fix the greenhouse to it to give me a little extra height.
The last picture shows where it will sit next to the smaller greenhouse. I'm looking forward to having some more under cover growing space. I'm planning on lots of tomatoes and chillies!
Now the question is what should I do with the floor of the greenhouse. Should I have beds and clean them out every year or grow things in  pots/buckets and have slabs under them?

Monday, 28 April 2014

A Different Monday

So it begins today.
 For a change I'm not making sure that I've got the right tools in my van or the right materials on site. 
 I'm not having to cut wood or fix timber, drill holes or join oak.
 I'm not working out angles or checking for level.
 I'm not sat in my van eating my lunch.
 I'm not climbing ladders or walking on roofs.

Instead I'm looking after these two little terrors all day! 
This should be fun. I hope you all stick around to see how we get on!

Saturday, 26 April 2014


This week I picked up some of the cider that we made last year (see the blog posts here and here).
In the US this would be called hard cider.
I tried it on Friday night and it was good, a really pleasing taste. Not to sharp or strong. I could quite happily drink this for some time! A little cloudy but it's still quite young. I'll have a proper go at drinking some soon with friends and I'll tell you the true affects then -  I doubt it will take too much!
It's hardened my resolve to become self sufficient in alcohol in the near future. If my apple tree grafts take then next winter I hope to plant around 35 cider apple trees to give me a future supple of this fermented juice. Of course then I'll have to build a press and have somewhere to store it, but I'm sure these things will come with time.
Who else is planning to be self sufficient in alcohol or has already achieved it? What drink would you most like to be able to make (I'd like to try making beer as well at some point and I've made many wines in the past)?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Wild Flowers - Ladies Smock

I do try my best to learn the names of wild flowers so in the future I can teach my daughters what they are called. Unfortunately my memory is terrible so I don't know as any as I should.
 I have, however, been pleased to see these little flowers growing all over our fields. Ladies Smock or sometimes it's called the Cuckoo flower, which is very apt as today the cuckoo has been singing its little heart out calling for a mate.
 Some how when you know the name of something you notice it more and these are so delicate and beautiful.
I'm going to make an extra effort this year to learn more names of the wild flowers we have growing here. Is there anyone who reads this blog that's very good at naming wild flowers?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Fruit Tree Nursery 2014

Last weekend I finally managed to finish grafting and planting all of my fruit trees.
 I planted them in two separate beds quite close together to try to encourage them to grow straight and true. I 've also experimented a little bit as one lot was planted through some old weed suppressant matting I had left from ages ago and the other will be mulched with straw

In these two little beds is hopefully my future cider orchard, some apricots and nectarines to see if I can get them to grow in our cold spot, cherries so we can have delicious stone fruit in the summer, plums and pears to grow around the veg garden and some more apple trees to grow and sell.
140 in total this year, should be interesting to see how they do.
Did anyone else get round to doing any grafting this year?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A Manual Labour Quote

"Have you ever spent a few months doing steady manual labour out of doors? If you have, then can you honestly say that, once you got over the initial shock of it, you did not feel better, eat better, sleep better, make love better and think better? Physical toil in the open air, at work one can see the sense of doing, is pleasant, delightful and very good for us" 
John Seymour - Bring Me My Bow 1977

What more could you say than that?

Friday, 18 April 2014

A Town Garden

I've never lived in a town, but if I ever did I'd hope to have a garden like this!
 This is the garden of a customer I was working for this week and it's situated right in the middle of Ludlow.
You'd never believe it was there.
It's laid out beautifully and at the end there's a massive vegtable and fruit garden.
 I little slice of heaven!
 Walled on one side it must have an amazing micro climate for growing veg, many of theirs were so much further on than mine and many had lasted the winter well.
I work in a lot of different places and I love seeing the gardens just as much as seeing their houses. I think so far this has to be my favorite garden from a customer and ti makes me wonder how good it would look in the summer.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Stay-At-Home-Dad Taster Day!

Last week I had a taster of whats to come, I had a day at home with my girls while my wife went off to work.
We managed to get a lot done, got them washed, fed and dressed, tidied up the kitchen, spent some time gardening and baked a cake - all before lunch.
I think the one thing it showed me was the fact that I'm going to have to plan my days. I think having something to do or aim for each day will be quite important otherwise we'll end up doing loads one day then nothing the next, sending us all mad. We'll also need a mix of indoor and outdoor things to do and they all need to be fairly low budget.
I'm planning on going to a couple of local play groups a week as time with other children is important to the girls as well as time for me to meet more local people and socialise with adults.
I'm also planning for us to do quite a bit of gardening and outside time (no surprises there) as the girls love being out in the sunshine. I can be in the veg garden while they play in the sand pit, I'm planing on building them a Wendy house if I ever find the time so they'll be able to play in that as well.
And baking either cakes or bread a few times a week as a great way to feel useful together and make my wife's lunch box a bit more tasty!
As well as this lots of time playing, building forts, eating pretend food my daughter has prepared and playing with dollies will all feature quite highly (and the housework).
What other things do you think will be essential to weeks looking after children and being the homemaker?

Monday, 14 April 2014

Budget Greenhouse Staging

I'm always short of space in the greenhouse and I needed some staging.
With my wife's maternity leave nearly over and me going full time daddy soon we're trying not to spend too much money, so I decided to improvise.
 My dad is a tipical farmer and has a field full of junk "stuff". Some useful and some not. A while back he did buy a job lot of shelving, this falls inthe useful catagorgy. One section of this cut in half makes some free staging for me.
 It might not be too pretty but it does the job.
It's already pretty much full but it's doing the job. Maybe one day I'll get round to making some nice wooden staging but until then this will do. Lately I've been trying to look at things we need and seeing what will do in their place that doesn't cost any money, anyone else have some good re purposed items?

Friday, 11 April 2014

£6 Potatoes

I was reading a budget recipe book the other day when the author was saying how the cheapest way to buy potatoes was out of a tin. I'd have to disagree and say it's from a 25kg sack straight from the farm.
They ride up front with me...
Lots of the farms around here sell their potatoes on the side of the road and the ones we've had all seem good quality, large potatoes and all between £6-£7 a bag. In my book that makes them pretty good value, in fact it's hardly worth growing them. I'm only going to grow early potatoes this year and wait until I'm more "on top" of the garden before I try and grow too many main crop potatoes.
Does anyone else grow many potatoes or buy them in bulk like I do and instead stick to a few early ones? What other veg are hardly worth growing due to how cheap they are (I'd be tempted to say carrots here but they taste so much better home grown and work out about £2 for seed that will grow almost all you need for 6 months!)?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Waxed Hat

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and as usual I was spoilt rotten. My wife was struggling with what to get me, so I asked for a waterproof hat.
I always end up working in the rain, either at work, on the smallholding, or in the garden and when your hair gets wet it makes you feel much colder that you actually are.
 So she brought me this waxed hat - I decided that my girls model it much better than I do!
I'm hoping it will last a life time, it got put through it's paces on the first day I had it when we were roofing in a downpour, I did take a bit of flack from some of the lads but my head was dry and theirs wasn't!
A waxed jacket might be in order next winter. I don't mind spending out on expensive items if they last a long time, work how they're suposed to and wear in well.
Anyone else got any items of clothing that they expect to last them out?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Viable Repairs

A few weeks ago I had to repair a garden bench for a customer.
Three of the slats had rotted and needed replacing, the other two were fine so they were left. I replaced them with oak, so I know that they'll last a long time.
That night when I got home and told my wife what I'd been doing that morning, she asked if I thought it was viable to do the repair. With my time doing the repair, sourcing the the oak, cutting and planing it to size and picking it up from the mill I should imagine that there will be little change out of a ton (I was there to do other jobs as well).
Now I know you can go down to B&Q or a garden centre and pick up a bench for much less than a hundred pounds but in my experience they don't last more and a couple of years before they fall to pieces.
Instead this customer had invested that money into their old bench to make it last much longer than that. Maybe in a few years I'll have to go and replace the other two slats but I'm sure that, in much the same way as triggers broom, this bench will last for a very long time and cost a lot less than buying imported benches and replacing them every few years.
We could do with some garden benches here on our little homestead but I'm reluctant to buy the ones mentioned above, so I think I'll start looking out for second hand ones in antique shops and in the paper so that I can buy one that can be easily repaired and made to last forever!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Hybrid Willow Coppice - Two Plots Planted

With my talk of planting a hybrid willow coppice some family (smallholder) friends said that they'd started to plant one last year and would I like some cuttings. They planted around 700 cuttings and as you have to cut them back after the first year they had plenty of wood spare.
 They gave me around 200 cuttings which is plenty for me to be going on with. It's two different varieties Q83 and Chinese.
 This is enough for two out of my five plots that I'll be growing on a short rotation coppice (SRC). So last Saturday I marked the two plots out with 1 metre spacings so all the cuttings would be going in at 1m x 1m square (which is what I've read is recommmended on some websites).
 I put the cuttings in by making a hole with a metal bar (an old muck rake tine) then pushing them into the wet ground leaving about 2 inches showing. I plan to mulch round it all quite soon with wood chip, as I'm meant ot have a few loads coming my way, this should stop it having to complete with the grass and keep other weeds down.
My little helper did get a bit distracted towards to end of the job though!
Hopefully I should see some growth in the next month or so. I've got to get the airgun charged up to make sure I keep the rabbits numbers down, as apparently they don't react well to being chewed by the white tailed little blighters (mind you what tree does!).
Anyone else planting trees for firewood at the moment?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Veg Patch - Divide And Conquer?

Last year our veg patch was nothing to be proud of.
It produced loads of veg to see us through the summer and beyond, but it was nothing to look at. From every edge the weeds encroached into the plot until I gave up the fight and let them win, and although it was productive I felt ashamed to walk anyone round it.
Early in the season everything looks great - this is a picture from last year
 But this year I'm taking a stand against the weeds. I'm going to be at home more so there should be no excuse for having a weed filled garden.

Just to prove I can keep it tidy, a picture of our old allotment (2010)

 My plan is to divide up the veg plot, separating them into beds, divided up with paving slabs. This means that it will stop me walking on the soil, be easy to alter if I want to move them and make it easier to set targets on weeding (e.g. I'll weed one bed tonight). I used to have raised beds at our last place and found it really easy to keep on top of, although it was much smaller than what I've got now!
A mild winter, chickens and a two year have left my garden looking far from picture perfect. I almost didn't put this picture up for the shame of it!
 If I divide it up into 4ft wide by 10ft long beds it means I'll have 16 beds to plant up in the main garden area, which should be plenty to keep up with at the moment. I normally organise my garden on a 6 year rotation should this should be even easier to manage, with a few plots spare for things like strawberries or salads.
This is the plan - to divide it into sixteen 4ftx10ft plots which should make it easier to manage

The first three plots done. Herb plot, Shallots & red onions then the last one white onions and garlic
 I managed to lay three of the new dividing paths this weekend before I ran out of slabs. I also weeded and planted up these areas as well.
The main downside is the space lost to the slabs and the cost. So far these slabs have cost nothing as they're second hand, but I now need to either wait and see if I can find more free ones or buy some. I phoned for a price today and for the 77 slabs I need it's going to come to £211, which I didn't think was too bad.
What do you think I should do? Buy the slabs and get organised ready for the summer or wait and save money? Also do you think I'm doing the right thing by dividing up the plot so much and loosing the space with the slabs?
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