Monday 29 June 2015

500th Post!

I've just noticed that is is my 500th post I've written for this blog and it feels like a real milestone.

I posted my first post about our life on this little homestead on the 3rd of March 2012 as I wanted to keep a record of what we were doing here. 

Three years later a lot has changed, we've had another child, I've become a stay at home parent, I've planted trees, grown loads of food, breed chickens, purchased sheep, rented land, the list goes on! 

What's really amazing is you've all stuck around to read it! I'm constantly amazed that people want to read what I get up to here and I want to thank each and everyone of you - having people that are interested in what I do makes it so much more special and encourages me to do more. 

I'm so appreciative of our little community of blogs and the comments and emails I receive. It's great to know others are trying to live the same way or are interested in this work filled way of living, it's also going to be great for my daughters to look back on this record of daily life and shake their heads at how mental their dad is!

So 500 posts, 410,716 page views and 7951 comments later I'm feeling very lucky, you've stuck by me for the highs, lows and spelling mistakes of setting up a homestead in the English countryside and it's everything I could ever want (although a few more hours in the day wouldn't go amiss!).

Thanks again everyone - Stay around for the 501st post as I might have something very exciting to tell you all! 

Sunday 28 June 2015

First Approved Food Order

Last week I made my first order with approved food. 
For those that don;t know it's a mail order company that sells nearly out of date or out of date food at a much cheaper price.
I've been looking on their website for a while and I decided to finally bite the bullet and order. The one thing I really wanted was the malted bread flour - 16kg for £5.49! That'll make 32 loaves of granary bread at just over 17 pence a loaf!
I was careful not to buy too many things that aren't normally on our shopping list as it's easy to turn a cheap shopping trip into an expensive one, and just because something is cheap doesn't mean I need it!
I also brought a full box of walkers ridge crisps for 50p and I made the order up with washing liquid that knocked money off my over all postage (as well as lots of sweets and chocolates!).
Malted grain flour - makes great bread
I was a little nervous about using the flour when it turned up as it's well out of date (2014), but I can see nothing alive in it, it smells fine and the proof is in the eating as it makes great bread - what a bargain! 

If anyone else is thinking of using approved food go through this link and you'll earn me some money off my next shop! To shop there needs to be carefully worked out as the postage adds a lot, but there are some huge savings to be made if you shop savvy! 
Anyone else use Approved Food?

Friday 26 June 2015

Rooting Hormone From Willow

This is part self sufficiency, part being tight and part forgetting to buy some rooting compound when I went to the garden centre! 
Crack willow
I'd got back from the garden centre with compost, grit and sharp sand and had plans to do lots of cuttings in the afternoon, then I realised I forgot to buy rooting compound, so I decided to make my own and see if it works.
The idea is simple, willow roots so well because of the indolebutyric acid it contains in its branches, this is a plant hormone that simulate root growth. By steeping branches in water this acid, along with Salicylic acid which cuts down on infection into the cuttings, leaches into the liquid. In doing so you create a liquid that can be used as a rooting hormone. 
Well that's the idea at least.
Here's the stages in pictures:

Child labour stripping leaves

I got both of them working!

Stripped branches - leaves for compost.

Cut up small

Boiling water added

The liquid 24 hours later, strained and ready for use

Some of the cuttings - now I have to wait.
To use the liquid I stripped some leaves off each cutting, then cut each to the right length, then left them for ten minutes to soak in the liquid before putting it in a gritty compost mix in my root trainers. After I finished I diluted the remaining liquid and used this to water the cuttings in.
Hopefully the cuttings will root easily and I'll have lots more plants in a few months.

Has anyone else done this and what result have you had?

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Growing Trees From Seed

I've been messing around a bit this year trying to grow a few different trees and shrubs from seed. 

Healthy little seedlings
My Eucalyptus Lemon bush seeds germinated quite easily, just sowed in April and then waited. The smell off them is amazing and really strong even on these little plants, apparently they can be used in cooking and for making teas as well as a good natural fly deterrent. When they get a little bigger it'll be fun to try them out.

Seperated up into their own pots
 Another one this year is the tomato tree. Dawn sent me some seeds earlier in the year to try so I'm looking forward to seeing how this one does. Apparently it can live for three years if you over winter it. I also have some Prickly Pears coming up from her seeds as well so I'll look forward to seeing how they do! 
 My last little experiment is with some western red cedar seeds that are currently stratifying in the fridge for a few weeks. These seeds smell so good and I'm hoping I can get them to germinate. My plan being to then grow them on in some plug tray and sell them when they get big enough, but we'll see if I can get any to grow first! 
Anyone else growing any tree from seed? any you recommend I try to grow or you think would sell well?

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Lameness In Sheep - CODD

Scald and foot rot are two conditions that sheep farmers have to get used to dealing with. I feel that I've gotten my sheep in more days that I haven't lately to make sure I'm being proactive with my animals health and trying to stop any of them being lame. 
We've just topped half the field the sheep are in as well to remove a lot of the stalky grass as this can sometimes lead to the animals getting getting an irritation between their hooves (which can then lead to foot rot or scald).
Sprayed up to stop anything else getting in there.
One ewe has had a bad foot for a few days and my treatments haven't been working so I decided to ring the vet and describe the symptoms. He says that it sounds like CODD, and on looking at pictures of it I can say that he nailed it straight away as the problem is at the top of the hoof rather than coming from the middle, I took in a picture and he confirmed this.
This morning I got the sheep in (again!) and I have treated her with prescribed antibiotics from the vet. Hopefully this should sort her out.

I hope people don't mind me putting things like this on my blog. I want to show the complete picture of what I'm up to here. The good and the bad and I want to show that there is a lot of work that goes into caring for animals that most people don't see! I sometimes think that people think you leave the animals in the field and just harvest the young for meat when the time is right - they couldn't be more wrong!

Monday 22 June 2015

Porch Progress - Cut Roof On

Last week Dill, my bricklayer, came for a day and managed to get he porch up to wall plate. That's the piece of wood on top of the block work that the roof sits on. 
Porch up to plate
 This then meant that he didn't have to come back until I've cut the roof on to the porch, as he need the rafters to guide his brickwork. 
I think he was hoping I'd take ages to get round to it, as he's really busy at the moment, but yesterday afternoon I managed to get the carcasing timber for the roof up. 
A roof of any size is awkward on your own, just to get he first few rafters up with the ridge board but I managed okay off the top of my wobbly step ladder!
The frist two rafters cut just to check the pitch of the roof - 35 degrees

Rafters and ridge board up - the ridge board won't really be needed as I'm going to put in a ridge beam straight underneath it, but I need it to keep the roof up  until the brickwork is at a level to hold the beam.
Having the beam will mean I don't need any ceiling collars so the inside can be vaulted and make the porch feel much bigger.

Roof on 

From the side
Feels a little closer to completion, although I know their is lots to do yet. Trying to fit it in here and there is difficult but good practice for when we start the extension properly! Hopefully my bricklayer will be back soon and then I can get the windows and door fitted!

Anyone else do any work to their house over the weekend?

Sunday 21 June 2015

Automatic Watering Systems

On Wednesday I managed to fit a watering system in my large greenhouse.
Drippers going to tomatoes 
 I've had two drip kits sat in the shed for years, in fact they moved with us from our last house. I brought them from a car boot sale for £5 a box and they come with all the fittings that I need, I just had to buy some clips to hold it in place.
£5 car boot buy
 I decided to fit the first kit in the greenhouse with all the tomatoes, hopefully this will save me lots of time in the summer and they'll be watered far more regularly reducing split tomatoes and blossom end rot. Another advantage is I will feel slightly less guilty about getting our neighbours to look after all my plants and livestock, as it'll be one less job to do when we go on holiday. 

Might need to reduce the pressure

The system waters all these plants and I'll have some trays on the large shelf  (to the left-hand side) to water my chillies as well
I now need to find a good quality electronic timer to control the watering system. I'd like to add other systems on to this for my other greenhouse and an area I'm going to make for propagation.

 Anyone have any recommendations on a good reliable timer that can manage multiple watering systems?

Saturday 20 June 2015

"Weaning" The Chicks

Thursday night I took the mother hen out from the chicks that we hatched back at the beginning of May. 
I'm never quite sure when to take the hen away from the chicks, last year I just left the hen in with them but this year there's been lots of fighting and bickering. These chicks are six weeks old and the hen had started to lay again, a sure sign she's not interested. To prove the point when I took her out and put her back with the other laying hens she made no fuss at all. 
The chicks seem relieved and are enjoying a quieter few days where they're not being bullied or pecked. They all look really healthy and are growing well, but much much slower than a commercial breed that would be killed at 8 weeks old (check out Sunnybrook farms post here and see the picture of one of his commercial breed chicks at 8 weeks, even though they've been brought up outside).

When does everyone else remove the hen that hatched the chicks or do you leave the older bird in with them?

Friday 19 June 2015

First Home-grown Meal This Season

Wednesday night I cooked my first completely home grown tea this season.
New potatoes, garlic scrapes and poached eggs.
I've never eaten garlic scrapes before, the garlic I grow here is the soft necked variety so doesn't produce a flower stalk, but the elephant garlic I'm growing does. I'd read about eating the flower stalk in a number of books and websites, each and everyone of them raving about the taste and comparing them to asparagus. 
I harvested the stalks as low as I could, so they were about 3ft long, and cut them into 2 inch lengths, to cook them I steamed them above the potatoes.
I sometimes think that my wife heart must sink when I put something new or weird on her plate, but we both agreed these were lovely. They were like a garlicky asparagus and with the runny yoke from the egg mixing in they were sublime. 
A great low cost meal and a nice reward for some of the work put into the garden. I can't wait for all the harvests to come now!

Who else had had a meal from their plot yet? 

Also who else has eaten garlic scrapes? I'm going to plant a hard necked variety of garlic as well this autumn I think to gain an extra harvest.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

My Day Yesterday - Hour By Hour

Yesterxday was busy but that's not unusual! I thought I'd write down what I did so I could remember the odd day here and there in the future.

6.00 - Alarm goes off - I fall back to sleep as I was on a job in the evening the night before and didn't get back until 10.20

6.30 - We get up, our other alarm in the form of two small children come and wake us properly!

6.45 - Check the sheep,

7.00 - Feed the chickens, change their water and let them out, open greenhouse. Wife goes to work at this point

7.15 - write blog post and have a quick look at other blogs whilst the girls are playing

7.45 - Dill the bricklayer turns up to start work on the porch. I've already got him the power and other things set up so he can start work straight away (after a coffee of course!)

8.15 - Have breakfast - musli for me, the girls had rice crispies

8.30 - clean the girls teeth and get them dressed and ready for the day.

8.50 - drop Ev off at playschool for the morning. they were off on a trip to the park.

9.10 - Back home - Washing and dish washer on. tidy kitchen

9.45 - Youngest goes for a nap, bit of milk, a story and a cuddle and she'll be asleep for a few hours!

9.55 - Put bread on to make for lunch

10.00 - Me and Ken (my neighbour and friend) go to make a temporary funnel out of some old posts and wire to make getting the sheep in a bit easier

11.00 Come back to the house and help do some jobs for my bricky mate, move and load out bricks, set up a temporary scaffold and cut a lintel in half for him to keep it moving.

11.45 - Go up to the park to pick up my eldest. We stay for a bit as I think it's unfair to not let my little one play when we're there.

12.10 - Pop to the butchers on the way back to get some meat for the week.

12.45 - Make some lunch for Dill, the girls and me. Cooked eggs and fresh bread eaten outside

1.30 - Peg out washing

2.00 - I take Dill off the brick work to come and help us round up the sheep. This time we were successful.

2.20 - Start sorting out a few of the lambs feet that are lame, A couple of their feet had scaul so got sprayed and trimmed.

2.45 - Treat all the lambs for blowfly - luckily Ken was happy to stay and looked after the girls while I was doing this.

3.30 - Fill the footbath up and run the sheep through it. girls are well back at this time!

4.00 - Get back to the house and get everyone a drink and icelolly - it was hot!

4.30 - Wife gets home early but quite happy I've already done the sheep and don't need her to help get them in

5.00 - Cut wall plates for Dill for the porch and help him tidy up

5.45 - Start cooking tea

6.45 - Eat tea outside - burgers!

7.00 - relax with my wife and the girls for a bit

7.45 - Girls get ready for bed, we take them up and read them a story before putting them to bed

8.30 - Back outside to do a few jobs - take sheep pen apart, water greenhouses, do some little garden jobs, etc

10.00 - Come inside and feel guilty that I've come in when it's still light! Do a bit of blogging to unwind

10.45 - have a shower

11.10 - bed

A fairly normal day but everyday is different. The girls were brilliant today and so well behaved and loved helping. Probably get report by social services for making them help me all day though!

I love not working and being a stay at home parent!

Tuesday 16 June 2015

"Don't You Own A Strimmer?"

"Don't you own a Strimmer?" 
This was the question my friend asked as he walked up to my house the other day. It wasn't meant to be nasty, just in a taking the pee sort of way, but he has a point. My place is looking a little messy around the edges. 
The front yard - but it's full of pallets of bricks anyway

But then it has done since we moved here really. My priorities have never been about appearance but more on production. 

Up the side of the house - this will all come out when I dig the footings for the extension

Up the side of the chicken pen - it's only me that walks up here anyway and I don't mind the odd nettle sting!
Maybe I should spend a few hours going around the place and trimming around the edges, but then I'd rather spend it weeding in the veg garden or working on my porch. Lack of time at this time of year is my biggest problem and I've just taken on a job where I'm working a few evening each week from 7.30 - 10.00 to bring in some extra money so I have even less spare.

Does everyone else struggle for time as much as I seem to? Do you bother to make it look all neat and tidy?

Monday 15 June 2015

Sheep Getting The Better Of Me

Yesterday I managed to catch a lamb that was really lame. He'd been alluding me for days but with a piece of rope and a tree to sneak up behind I manage to catch him. 
It was scald and quite bad. Some of the grass is quite long and I know it upsets their feet (like everything). Once I trimmed his feet up and treated them with the purple spray I decided that it was best to get them all in and run them through the foot bath. I also wan tot drench the lambs and treat them for fly strike before it happens. 
I rang a mate and asked if he'd come over and give us a hand to get them in. 
I thought with him, my wife and me we'd get them in no problem. 
I was wrong.
Wooly b@#:@;'ds
They were having none of it.
After three attempts I gave up. 
I could run no more and I was starting to swear. 
I think it might be time to borrow dads quad bike and get them a bit more used to being rounded up, I'm also going to get a crook and start using one again like we used to when I was younger. I've been trying to get them keen on the bucket but only half of them ever seem interested when I give them a few handfuls of oats in the morning. 
I'm trying to be a good shepherd but it's not easy! No wonder I learnt swear words at such a young age! 

Saturday 13 June 2015

My Tomato Potting Mix

I'm a little late in potting on my tomatoes. They've been in singular pots and growing quite nicely but today my eldest and I decided to pot them up into their final buckets to grow on in the greenhouse.
One large barrow of top soil tipped on an old sheet of plywood
 I no longer grow in just compost, it doesn't hold the moisture and I like to give them a little extra to help them along, that said a lot of what they need is provided in the comfrey food I'll be feeding them every third day whilst they're growing and good old sunlight!

Here's the mix I'm using this year:
Four bags (I added one more) of compost three shovels of wood ash.

Four pots of chicken manure pellets  

The mix coming together

Lots and lots of broken egg shells for added calcium. (these stunk)

Mixed together and looking good

Filling the buckets - these all have holes in the bottom and then an inch of so of stones/broken pots

Plants in the greenhouse looking happy
I'm please I've got this job done, it should have been three weeks ago really but it won;t have affected them too much. I've got two types of plant food brewing at the moment, comfrey and nettle, ready for when they start growing and producing fruit. I still need to pot on my chillies, cucumbers and cucamelons but that will have to wait until next week now. I'm tempted to set up a drip irrigation system I brought for a few pounds at a car boot sale in this greenhouse to ease my evening work load and to make sure they get enough water if I'm not there on an evening.

What does everyone grow their tomatoes in?

Also don't forget about my challenge from yesterday's post- lets see what you look like!

Friday 12 June 2015

Show Me Your Face!

This week Texan posted a rather lovely picture of herself on her blog and I realised she wasn't at all how I imagined her. 
I'm the one on the left. 

This got me thinking, I'd been reading her blog for years and had no idea what she looked like (and now I have a bit of a crush on her to boot). I could of been sat next to her on the bus and not recognise her (although it would be a weird bus as she lives thousands of miles away). 
Many of my readers I consider to be friends, as I hope they do with me, so my challenge to you all is to show me your face! 
Don't worry if you don't want to, I'll still read your blogs, but I thought this could be a bit of fun, encourage your readers to do the same and post the links below - lets see what you look like! Silly selfies are welcome!

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Veg Gardens And Water

On a sunny June morning the veg gardens are looking pretty good. I thought I'd post a picture here before the weeds take hold and it all goes to pot.
Kitchen garden- a little weedy but only two plots left to plant up

Things are coming along nicely, hopefully we'll harvest some early potatoes in a week or so.

Long furrows is getting full now. unfortunately the grass is coming back through so I need to mulch or cover to stop it. 
I seem to have planted a ridiculous amount of food this year, but with both girls eating a lot more I've no doubt we'll get through it. I now need to be better at planing my harvests and working out how long things are going to be in the ground for. 
I want to start selling more veg but until I become more organised it seems that just a pipe dream, I also think that irrigation might be key for ensuring crops take as long as they should (no shortage of water if I save it through the winter) rather than being sat for weeks without growing because they've had no water. Currently I tend not to water anything once it's established (called the Spanish system) and this works fine when just feeding us but if I want to start selling a little extra I could do with things moving a little faster. My idea with not watering is the roots go deeper and they can then survive with no help from me, it's worked every year I've gardened so far but tempted to try a change in system.
Does everyone else irrigate or water each night or every few days? If I had to water both of these gardens by hand it would take hours!

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Car Boot Bargains

I've not been to many car boot sales this year, I seem to have gone off them lately as I have so much to do I begrudge the time if I don't buy anything. But Sunday was such a lovely day we thought we'd go as a family for a walk round. Ledbury carboot sale doesn't start till ten either so that's a bonus when you're trying to get two little ones into the car as well!
Turns out it was worth me going. Here is my haul:
£5 - A tub of snap pins and R clips for farm machinery. each one of these is at least a couple of quid.

£3 - set of three Sash clamp heads and tails to fix to wooden batten. These mean I can make clamps any size I want. They would be £12 a set for a cheap set, these are good quality ones. 

£2.50 - Book on carving letters in wood. I tend to buy as many woodworking books as I can, it's great for reference and I never know what project is coming next.

50p - Handy to have some spare hose pipe fittings if they'll work with my other ones.

£5 Hoop and band hinges. It has one of the pins missing but I'm sure I can make one. Makes for a cheap set to hang a gate as they're normally about £20

£5 - good quality hosepipe and fittings. I was going to have to buy the fittings like on this pipe any way as I need to get some water out to my tree nursery. Perfect for the job I had in mind.
Anyone else been to a carboot sale lately and had any bargains?
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