Friday, 27 February 2015

Grow Your Own Materials - Willow

When we talk about becoming self sufficient we normally talk about food, and rightly so as it's one of the most important things. The conversation then often moves on to heat and power, firewood , solar energy, wind power, ect. 
But what other materials would we need to grow to be self sufficient? I've been thinking about this and one thing that would be important to me would be the ability to grow some of the materials I  use. 
Now I'm never going to be able to use an oak tree that I've planted unless I live to be over a hundred years old (so those are planted for the future grand children), but there are other trees that I use that can be much younger.
For example I've got a clump of hazel at the bottom of my garden that's going to provide my bean poles this year and the tops will be my pea sticks. Although this clump has to be removed, due to some drainage work I need to do, it would provide my bean poles for many years to come if it was harvested properly, alone with firewood and other things. I've planted lots of hazels in my coppice as a future replacement for this clump, as well as some extra firewood, but it got me thinking.
The rest of my coppice is going to be planted up to hybrid willow to be cropped on a short rotation for firewood, but willow has many other uses and maybe it would be worth planting some different types encase I wanted to use some in the future. 
Really well packaged willow
One use you think of is basketry when you think of willow, and I don't think I've got the time to start that any time soon, but it's also great for making hurdles and climbing features in the garden, both of which would be great things to do with the children on a spring morning and the ability to make my own hurdles would be very useful when we've got stock or to keep wild animals out. 
So I set about on the internet to find some more willows. I've already got a couple of hundred hybrids planted (although they haven't done that well yet) so I wanted to increase the diversity of the willow I've got for firewood and to plant some willow for basketry to be grown in a separate plot. 

I stumbled upon the world of willow website which had over 80 varieties of willow to choose from, From firewood and basketry to growing willow for goat feed and bees. there were slightly more expensive than buying cuttings from eBay but I wanted it to come from a reliable source, especially if I'm to propagate from it in the future.
It came with lots of information on each type of willow that I had
I chose two packs, one for fuel and short rotation coppice (50 of these) and one for basketry (20 of these), with five varieties in each. 

In the SRC selection there was - Common Osier (K45), Viminalis x viminalis Honey (K46), Triandra x Viminalis (K47), Nordica (K48) and Swedish Osier (K62) - It will be interesting to see which does best on my land.

In the basketry selection there was - Willam Rogers (K1), Golden (K17), Calliantha (K39), Harrison (K58), Pheasant Brown (K63).

I was really pleased that I had such diversity in the packs and the colours in the basketry pack were really great (Golden looks lovely) I was also pleased that it came with a information sheet on each variety of willow along with planting instructions, it doesn't take much but the little touches are really appreciated. It was also really well packaged, each type being sealed in a packet and labled up.
I'll hopefully get these in over the weekend (through some weed matting this time), I'm really looking forward to seeing how these grow.
Anyone else got any other trees planted for uses other than firewood?

BTW - This post is not in any way sponsored by World Of Willow, infact they don't even know I've written it yet (but if they want to send me anything I won't say no!).

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

My First Sourdough

For tea last night I made a squash soup with a sour dough loaf to have with it, followed by chocolate brownies.
I followed the "no kneed recipe" on Ngo family farm blog, although I made my loaf free form on my bread stone instead of in a pot.

Starting the starter, left by the fire.
 Starting the starer was quite interesting and to begin with I thought I was never going to cook with it as it smelt like sick! Every time I walked into the room I'd get the waft of sick and think that the starter needs to go in the bin. I stuck with it though and kept it running a few weeks before I used it, now it smells yeasty and slight alcoholic, not unpleasant at all. to start it I used the recipe from the River Cottage bread book (a link to what is written is here).
My starter bubbling away
Not a great photo but it shows that it did rise quite well.
This is my first ever sour dough and it was really good, I loved the yoghurty like after taste. We ate the whole loaf while it was still warm, covered in butter and dipped into our soup - it was a good dinner to have.I think I did knock some air out of it when I put it on the bread stone but it still had good sized air bubbles in it. I plan on making a peel for it when I get time so I can slip the bread on the stone without loosing so much air.
It was a great tea and I should say that even with a large tray of chocolate brownies and enough soup left over to feed a football team, the total cost wouldn't be much more than £2, anyone that says food is expensive needs to try cooking from scratch!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Planting Tomatoes

I had planned to plant my tomatoes and peppers in my little window sill propagator today but the weather has put me off, after spending a morning cutting up firewood in the rain.
I always worry at this time of year that I'm not starting plants early enough, it's a fine balance between planting too early and having to keep big plants out of the frost (my greenhouse is unheated) or planting too late and missing out on early veg. I'm going to plant mine one day this week I think.

So a question to you all - when do you plant your tomato and pepper seeds? Do you try to be super early with lots of moving plants around to miss the cold or do you leave it a little longer and not notice any difference? Or does your climate provide other options?

Friday, 20 February 2015

Busy On?

"Busy On Kev?"
When you go into the builders merchants you get asked this question around where I grew up. It's a mixture of "You busy?" and "Got much on?". 
Since becoming a stay at home dad and in turn going part time with my work, my order book has been really full and I'm struggling to fit it all in. This is a nice situation to be in, I'm ending up working a few evenings a week preparing wood and building things and then working every Saturday and all the school holidays to fit it. It's been working out really well and the work keeps rolling in. 
So much so I've invested in a large planner thicknesser to make sure I can do all of my jobs in house rather than having to get a joiner to make things for me to fit. 
The long term plan being to work more and more from home so I can cope with the school run and still work when the girls are older.
I can honestly say that getting a trade behind me was one of the best things I ever did and time and again it's proved it's worth. Not only does it enable me to earn a good living (and be part time if I want) but it also means I can do more for myself and enables me to live my lifestyle more and more. Not to mention the fact that I love it!
Who else is thankful of their profession or trade?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Pollarding Willow

My brother sprang a nice surprise on me this weekend again with a visit with his chainsaw. He's buying a house and wants to make sure he does some jobs for me before he need to be working on his own place (and so that I'll also be available to help him when he gets it).
The big tree inthe middle is an old willow tree leaning into the field.
 Looking around the fields we decided that the one oak that needs a lot of work doing to it was too big of a task to do on a Sunday and he'd possibly need another climber with him, so we settled for some willows on the property line. 
The whole hedge is overgrown and neglected but provides a nice barrier so I'm not going to attack it too much, but there are a few trees growing out over the field that need attention. The one willow was very rotten in the middle and would probably fall if left for too many more years. We decided to pollard it, so new growth would be produced at the top of the tree trunk (away from rabbits) and in this way it would have a new crop of wood on it in a few years time. 
Trees used to be pollarded for many reasons, to produce a leaf hay to store food for animals in the winter, to produce timber for different things like basket making or hurdles and now people pollard to produce an attractive shape for their trees. 
It needed climbing to tackle it so not a job for me!

The tree pretty much finished with Dave just roped into the last branch

The tree finished, this should regrow well and produce some more fire wood in a few years time

One pile of firewood

Even the smaller branches get used for fire wood when I'm cutting it up

The second pile from another willow

The piles of brash ready to be burnt when it's dried out a bit.
 As well as this willow Dave also managed to do another, much more awkward willow and a few small ash that were growing from the base of a much bigger tree, adding to the pile of future firewood.
Hopefully all this wood will go some way to provide for next years heating (once I've got it cut, split and stacked) and although I know it's not a great wood it still burns well in our wood burner if it's dry. 
Anyone else been pollarding trees for firewood or other reasons?

Monday, 16 February 2015

More Fruit Tree Pruning (Sorry!)

On Thursday I worked for my mum. Every few weeks she has the children for a day and I attack her massive list of jobs. I know who is more tired at the end of the day though and it's not me! 
She did dangle the proverbial "carrot on the end of the stick" for me though and said that once I got so many of the jobs done could I prune our orchard.
I've mentioned this orchard before, it's one I planted with her about 10 years ago on the farm, before I left home. Full of old varieties and some tried and tested favourites of apples, pears, plums quinces, damsons, gages & medlars. There must be about 40 trees in there now and I try to prune it every year if I get around to it. 

The "new" orchard on the farm. The old orchard is very old and used to park machinery now, so 10 years ago my mother and I decided to plant another one for the future.

This tree is starting to have the goblet shape that I want

Much larger prunings were required on some trees 
 It's been interesting seeing the shapes of the tree forming and some I'm getting right whilst others need quite a bit more work to them. I won't go through the process here, as I know I'm a bit boring when it comes to pruning fruit trees, so I thought I'd just show a few pictures. 
The photos below are a before and after of a tree I'm trying to bring back down. It still needs plenty taking off it but that's plenty for this year, with some big branches marked up for next year as well. Hopefully in about three years I should have the shape I want on this tree
Before - far too much upright growth and lots of canker in the branches

After - reduced the height and removed one of the large limbs that was growing too vertical.
Sorry if I keep boring everyone with fruit trees and pruning - I'm sure they'll be more posts about it yet though!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Killing A Cockerel For Dinner

This post contains pictures of dead animals and may offend some
Please don't read if you feel that it may upset you as it's not my intention to offend anyone or be controversial. I only want to give a fair account of my lifestyle and the way I'm trying to live. I use this blog as a diary and a record of what we've achieved here and I think this is an important part.
The cockerel is the light coloured chick by the hen.
This Sunday I killed a cockerel for our dinner. 
This has been done for thousands of years and yet when I tell people about it they think it's somehow "odd". My wife's friends at work can't believe that we do it, but I can think of little better than caring for something it's whole life that we're going to eat. 
This cockerel was largely free ranged most of his life, hatched with one of our chickens, from one of our own eggs back in July. He' had a good life, fed well, was looked after and cared for, with a nice patch to roam as he sees fit. 
He was always destined for the dinner table though as we can only really keep one cockerel at the moment and he started to become aggressive towards my girls, trying to attack them when they're in the garden. 

Killing an animal is not something I undertake lightly and it's not something I enjoy. My aim is to do it as calmly, quickly and painlessly as possible, I don't want the animal to be distressed.
I've killed many chickens over the years and I can do it instantly. The cockerel had been isolated the day before, making him easier to catch. I set myself up making sure everything I needed was close to hand and then I killed him first thing in the morning.
Tail feathers removed straight away

Hung to drain

Plucked whilst still warm
 I plucked him whilst he was still warm and found it much easier than normal. He was a good sized bird but the shape of the carcass is so different from the birds you buy in the supermarket that you wouldn't believe they were the same animal. They don't lie flat on the roasting dish and have much, much more leg meat and much less breast meat. There was also a lot more fat on this bird due to the natural grain I've fed him compared to concentrated feed he would have had on a commercial farm.
A real difference between leg meat and breast meat.
I roasted him for an hour and half, whilst he was roasting I also dug up parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and leeks and got a few squashes from the shed. The only thing I didn't grow for dinner was the potatoes which came from an organic farm a few miles away. 
The leg meat was a bit tough in all honesty but it was perfect in a curry later in the week.

A chicken raised how we wanted on our own little homestead. Meat for two meals, bones for a stock and feathers for compost. 
Almost a closed circle. I need to increase how much food I produce for the chickens on our own land and grow quite a few more of them.
Anyone else raised any meat birds lately?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Wood Chip & Hot Beds

"Do you want a this load of wood chip?"
A phone call on Sunday morning from my dad. My brother had a big job on last week and had produced a huge amount of chip that needed a home. I didn't realise quite the size of the load until he turned up with it. I should know that they never do anything by halves! 

A "small" load of wood chip

Some ruts left to be sorted out

Some serious heat in those chips at the moment - it did give me an idea...

Levelling a patch for a little experiment

Frames added
When dad dropped off the wood chip, and after I got over the ruts he left in the field, I was quite intrigued by the heat being given off from the stack. It got me thinking about Victorian hotbeds and growing veg out of season.
As a little experiment I've decided to level off a patch of chip about 3ft deep and add a couple of frames to it. I then put a few cans of water over it and some of last years comfrey tea to speed up the decomposition. I'll leave it a few days now and see if it holds it's heat. If it does I'll add some soil and compost to the frame and grow some salad in the one and potatoes in the other. I've got some old perspex I can to the top to keep the heat in at night and I can remove it in the mornings. 
This should make an interesting experiment. I've also got plenty of wood chip to make some paths and to use as a mulch around trees. I've watched the video on the "Back To Eden" system of gardening but I'd never have a supply of chips regularly enough to do that, although it might be interesting to try on a small scale in the garden somewhere.

Monday, 9 February 2015


Yesterday I asked you what the tuber was in the photo below. Dawn was closest saying an Oca which is what I thought it was when I first saw it. It's a Mashua and related to nasturtiums, coming from the Andes and is a crop that's been grown for 1000's of years.
It seems to be a veg that splits opinion and it's not particularly loved. One of the reasons for this is it's reported effects as a antiaphrodisia and reduction of the male libido! No research has been done on this other than on rats from what I can see on the web and even then you need to eat large quantities of this to have an effect. 
The second negative for it will reduce the chances of that anyway, as it's not even meant to taste that nice! I've read that some people think it has an amazing flavour but most just don't think it tastes very nice! 
Why am I growing it then? (This is what my brother said to me when I told him about the veg this morning. )
Well first off I love growing different things and I might enjoy the taste. It's also meant to yield well on poor soil making it a good backup crop and one for hard times.
It looks really pretty on all the photos I've seen of it growing, produces loads of flowers and makes quite a feature in the garden when trained to climb up something (my old tin shed maybe?).
And finally in Colombia it's grown with potatoes as a companion plant to repel pests in the potato fields so it might be good to grow it along side other crops or up the fence around my garden as a natural barrier.
Here are a couple of links with more information:

What do you think? Would you grow it to see what it's like?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Seed Swap Herefordshire

Yesterday I went to my first ever organised seed swap. 
It was good! 
I normally work on Saturdays but I decided to just work the afternoon and go to the seed swap with my mum instead. I was glad I did, it was really well organised, with stalls selling second hand tools, honey and plants and then the main bit with all the seeds, tubers and plants for swapping.
 The swap was really busy with a massive collection of seeds. You could quite literary get all your seeds for the next year from this swap if you wanted, there was a good selection of saved seeds as well as commercial seeds people had brought in.
They had an hour long talk by Pauline Pear, who has written a few books for garden organic, on saving seeds. I learnt a some new nuggets of information and reinforced some ideas I had about how I was going to go about saving seeds this year (more information towards one of my self sufficiency goals).  There was also some great examples of seed saving and keeping strains pure, like the guy who grows heirloom broad beans on his allotment and to prevent cross pollination he provides everyone on the allotment with his seeds!
Some really knowledgeable people manned the stall for the swap

Some of my offerings - some autumn fruiting raspberries dug up and given away at the seed swap
 I took quite a few packets of seeds that I grew, including chilli peppers, cucamelons and fennel, as well as six bags autumn fruiting raspberries, so I didn't feel guilty taking a few packets to grow this year (although it's a "swap" you don't have to bring anything with you).
I labled my seeds up quite nicely (and even put a shameless link to my blog)

Some of my spoils

Who can guess what this is?
 I managed to get a few really interesting packets of seed, some heirloom lettuces seeds, chickpeas (which many of you will know I was on for growing this year anyway), some different types of beans for drying to use as staples through the winter and an interesting tuber to experiment with. The tuber is another I had looked at buying but decided against it as I've already bought a few different ones this year anyway, Can anyone guess what it is? No prizes - just for fun!
Anyone else been to a seed swap this year or planning on going to one? There are lots on around the country at the moment and I'm sure they'd be glad for you to go along with or without seeds! 


Saturday, 7 February 2015

Amazing Cookies!

One vice I used to have when I went food shopping was to buy those soft American style cookies they'd sell in bags of four for over a pound. I think I've found a recipe that beats them hands down and doesn't contain any of the nasty E numbers (although they have plenty of sugar!).
Ingredients for the cookies:
125g of unsalted butter (I use stork)
50g of granulated sugar
125g of soft brown sugar
150g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

I then add either 150g of rasins, 100g of chocolate or like I did last time 80g of dark chocolate and a handful of dried raspberries (which was amazing)
 Mix all the dry ingredients together, then melt the butter and add the vanilla to it before mixing that in, then add the egg.
 This slightly sloppy mixture is then ready to cook. I normally make 12 cookies out of this mixture. Just dollop 6 blobs each on to two grease proof paper covered baking trays. Leave plenty of space as they tend to spread.
 Then pop into a pre heated oven at 180 degrees and cook for between 8-10 minutes. They should just start to change colour when they're ready, cookies are always better under done than over! They want to still be soft in the middle when they've cooled - I guess the trick is to actually let them cool before you eat them!
 I think from start to finish I can make and cook these in about 15 minutes and that's with a 3 year old "helping" me! They taste amazing, I've been cooking them most weeks and it's a good use of my vanilla extract when it's ready to be used.
What's your favourite cookie recipe?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Veg & Fruit Garden Tour - Video

I thought I'd do a little walking tour of my garden so you'll have to excuse my goofy voice and silly hat! 
there's much I've missed off this video but it gives a good feel for the garden. When I say "next year" I mean this year but next growing season, otherwise I just sound stupid! If people like the video I could do more - let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Winter Fruit Tree Pruning - Year Three

Over the weekend I managed to get out and prune my orchard. 
It didn't take very long as the trees haven't put on much growth. Trees seem to take a while to establish in our clay soil and then when they do they grow like crazy.
Bramley apple tree before
I mainly removed lower branches to shape the tree and removed or reduced the upright growth. I also found a tree that had been killed by my neighbour when he mowed the grass for me in the summer. Not a big deal but I'll need to replace it fairly soon, I've a good sized tree called a winter banana growing in my nursery that might go in it's place.
Bramley apple tree after

My little orchard growing
Sorting scion wood to go in the fridge to store until the sap starts to rise
I also collected up a lot of these prunings to use as scion wood when I graft my trees in the spring. Yesterday me and my daughters start in front of the fire and wrapped up the scion wood with damp newspaper and then covered in cling film, each batch marked up with the variety. If anyone is going to try grafting this year let me know by email and I might have some scion wood spare for you.
Have you pruned your fruit trees yet (although not stone fruit!)?

Sunday, 1 February 2015

I Love Faggots!

During the week we had some friends over for tea. One of them had mentioned that she hadn't had faggots since she was a child so I offered to cook some up for them as in the winter it's a meal we regularly have. 
I always bake them in the oven in a really thick onion gravy, made from scratch, flavoured with Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar. We had them served up with lots of mash, carrots and sprouts. Proper winter food and great for a cold night.

For those who don't know what a faggot is, it's a meat ball made form offcuts and offal normally containing heart, liver, fatty belly meat & bacon all minced together and then wrapped in the caul fat. We buy ours from the village butchers as a really cheap and filling meal and I normally do one extra to have cold in a sandwich the next day with pickle. Lovely!

What other cheap meals do you like from the butchers?
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