Sunday, 31 May 2015

Hardening Off And Planting Out

My surprise frost last week stopped me planting out too quickly but I'm in full flow now.  I've been hardening off plants all week (putting them in and out of the greenhouse to acclimatise them to living outdoor) and today I finally managed to get some in the ground. 
 Sweetcorn, summer and winter squash, oca, chicpeas, tomatilos and tomatoes have been planted out so far, hopefully I'll get beans and more squashes out tomorrow.
I love these root trainers - great for things like sweetcorn that don't like root disturbance.
All plants seem to go well in them. I'll plant these up with beans now ready for a second flush of them in late summer.
Who else is only just planting out their greenhouse grown transplants? Or am I behind everyone in my little frost pocket?

Friday, 29 May 2015

Red Flowered Broad Beans & Dead Carrot Seed

I'm not one to wax lyrically about flowers and the beauty of things, normally for me it's all in the eating, but my red flowered broad beans are simply beautiful. 
 I was late getting them in so they've only just started flowering but they really do look good (I first saw them here last year and mum got me the seeds as a present at Christmas), I'll post some more pictures of them when they're all in flower.
This was some consultation on the fact that one of my beds of roots, that's supposed to be parsnips and carrots, has only  parsnips showing through. I was being a cheap skate and using up my old carrot seed, I pour about three packets together and sowed them really thickly, but only about four seedlings have come up in three ten foot rows. I know they only keep for about a year and I know I should have just chucked them in the bin. 
The stupid thing is I have new carrot seed I bought this year, I was just being tight. It's not he end of the world, I have other carrots planted in Long Furrows and in the bed next to this one, but it is a waste of space and effort. Tomorrow I'll hoe it all over and sow some more, maybe Paris Market this time, a nice round globe type of carrot.

Just parsnips and weeds
Luckily we're not relying on those carrots, failed crops would have a serious impact then, anyone who stores quantities of seeds "just in case" needs to take note!

Does anyone else do things they know they shouldn't when it comes to planting seeds? I think we all try our luck sometimes even though we know we shouldn't and get below par crops as a result.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Shuttered A Greenhouse Step

Sometimes you do a little job and you wonder why you haven't done it sooner. 
The other Sunday when we were busy concreting, we had a couple of barrow full of concrete left over. I didn't want to waste it (I hate waste as you know) so my brother suggested I shutter a step for the greenhouse. Using half a pallet collar for the sides and a few lengths of batten as posts I quickly knocked up a rough shutter and filled it with concrete. It's not the first time I've made steps though but these were a bit easier!
Shuttered greenhouse step
I left the top tamped to give some grip and tapped around the outside to get rid of some of the air after I filled it up. When I struck the shutter the next day I was quite pleased with my ten minute job, I'm now wondering how I used to open the awkward door on my greenhouse without it! 

It has got me thinking though, we've got lots of concreting jobs coming up, footings, drainage, etc so having somewhere to put left over concrete would be a good idea. I'm going to make some shutters to form some concrete pig troughs and maybe a few other items. 

What would you make shutters for to use up left over concrete?

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Raising Bumpkins

I have a funny feeling I could be raising a couple of bumpkins here!
Off they go after helping get the sheep in. 
Two peas in a pod! 

Monday, 25 May 2015

Ten More Sheep

I've been made to promise I'll stop now, these sheep will complete our flock for this year (except maybe a tup in the autumn). 
Ten more hoggs with lambs at foot, so another twenty animals. This should help us keep on top of the grass but doesn't help complete the extension! 
 They were another good batch of animals, a different cross this time (welsh cross mules), but the ewes look good and most of the lambs are a good size. 
Out of the trailer


New sheep quite happy with the original ones at dusk.
 When I check the sheep yesterday morning one ewe was really lame, from the first lot not the new ones. 
So I decided to get them in again. Luckily our neighbours Ken and Liz helped, along with my wife and the girls. We got them in on the second try and I had to break into a run more times than I would have liked!
The ewe in question had broke the nail on her hoof and it needed trimming quite heavily, cleaning  and then spraying up. I think it's lucky I caught this early before anything nasty could get into it, she seems fine later in the day. 
I was also slightly annoyed/worried when I spotted what looked like orf on one of the new lambs. It was difficult to tell but there was three more lambs with scabs on their lips and mouths so I'm thinking that's what it is. I treated it and I'll have to keep an eye on it from here on in to make sure it doesn't spread on those lambs or on to others. That said it could be that the animals were on rough pasture and they scratched their mouths on thistles, but something is telling me it's not that.
Anyone that comes into sheep farming with no experience and does well has my full respect, I grew up with it and there is so much to watch out for - I was always told that a sheep has one aim in life and that is to die in the most awkward way possible. 
I think the key thing is to keep watching your flock and learning what they're like, that way you'll know when something is wrong. 
I guess the next job will be shearing if I can find someone to come and do it for me! 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Wobbly Wall - An Unexpected cost

We've started doing a bit of landscaping to the back garden. There are things that need doing for the extension like drainage, new man holes a new retaining wall and steps for the patio so I've been trying to make a start on them. 
Although the original house was built in the 1940's by a top quality building firm, a firm that came later and did some landscaping were not of the same calibre. 
 All the walls holding up the patio are crumbing away, one manhole was built in the middle of a wall and the garden wall that runs about 8m down out garden was only built the width of one brick on footings that aren't much wider. 
Now we've removed a huge invasive shrub we've discovered that this wall is not very stable. It's about 7ft high and you can make it wobble by pushing it with one finger. I doubt it'll be up much longer if there's a storm
 I did consider differnt ways of firming it up. We could add concrete pads and then build up buttresses at intervals to support the wall, or maybe drive steels down into the ground and fix the wall to that, we could even replace it with a wooden fence. But that would be half measures really so after a bit of head scratching we've decided to take it down and re build it properly. I like having a wall rather than a fence there as it feel more permanent and provides a lot of privacy for the patio.
The good news is that I spoke to the neighbour and he's agreed to go halves on it if we make his side nice as well - his side currently looks awful, it's not even pointed up and he says it's bothered him for years. 
It's a major extra cost, there is over 2000 bricks to purchase let alone the labour to lay them, plus the footings and the time loading the materials out. It's one we hadn't budgeted for and it only really takes us back to where we started with this wall but at least if we do it right it should never need replacing again and provide years of privacy.

What would you do in our situation? 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Kitchen Garden Tour - May

I had intentions to do these videos once a month but it hasn't happened. I'll try to do them over the summer months to give myself a record of what's growing. 
Hopefully the video gives you a good feel for what's going on in my kitchen garden, next time I'll include Long Furrows as well.
Sorry if it's still shaky - it must just be how I am! 
Let me know what you think.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

This Years Grafts Looking Good

It's still too early to see what has taken and what hasn't, but early signs are looking good for this years apple trees. 

There's over hundred and fifty trees in this section and most have new growth on the grafted on scion wood. Long furrows seems the perfect plot for them and all this rain lately has helped keep them looking healthy. 
Who else did any grafting this year and how are your trees looking?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Old Glasshouse

I thought I'd do a post to make you all dream. 
This old glass house is next to one of the fields I rent and I dream about what I'd do with it if it was mine every time I walk past it! 
 It's beautiful with a brick base and a hardwood timber frame on top. Most of the glass is now gone but you can tell it was a good one and much cared for in it's day. There's even a pit where the boiler used to live to heat it in winter and on cold nights. 
 It's split into two, in the top section you can still see an old grape vine and a large peach tree growing up the one side and the bottom end was apparently used to raise seedlings for the kitchen garden (all for the big house). 

 Some of the metal work in there is amazingly ornate and it's a real shame that it's all rusting away slowly. 
If I had about a year and a large budget I'd love to get this listed old glasshouse back into working order and fill it with plants. 
Don't get me wrong, I still love my two aluminium greenhouses and I'm sure they involve a whole lot less maintenance!
What would you do with an old glasshouse like this?

Monday, 18 May 2015

More Concreting This Weekend!

More concreting this weekend. 
It's starting to feel weird unless we've mixed at least some concrete on a Sunday! 
Yesterdays concreting wasn't at mine though - it was at my brothers new house. They've only been in a month but they've already done loads, lots of ripping things out, mainly concentrating on the living room and dinning room. 
I called round one night a few weeks ago and Dave showed me some quarry tiles under the carpet in the living room. My heart sank a little as I knew, with the age of the house, that the chances were those tiles would be laid on ash and dirt, we lifted a couple of the tiles and could push a screwdriver 4 inches into the dirt. Only one solution really, dig it all out and lay a new floor. Lots of work.
 Dave has worked like a trooper and with the help of his fiancĂ©e they've got the floor all dug out in the last week, added a layer of scalpings, wackering it down and then blinded it with sand.
 I turned up Saturday to give him a hand. We got the first layer of plastic down, added the insulation then added another layer of plastic to prevent it reacting with the insulation (apparently the wet concrete can react with the aluminium layer on the insulation).
 We then added a level timber around the walls to act as our datum to tamp off. The idea being that a notched timber could then be moved up and down the walls to make sure all the concrete is level. It can also be tamped to remove the air and bring the "fat" to the surface to make it easier to level.
On Sunday we concreted it. Dave had a few mates there to help as well as me and dad, all the concrete was mixed using the mixer on the tractor - that way we can do it on a Sunday rather than waiting to have a ready mix. I was in charge of laying it, helped by Dave, and I think we got a pretty good finish. He did record a short time lasp video of the floor going in (I'm the one in a blue shirt) - Maybe I should add the Benny Hill music to it!

The finished floor
Now the waiting begins! He wants to lay a wood floor on this and concrete dries at 1mm per day so they've got a bit of a wait before we can lay any flooring! 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

No BBQ's For A While!

I noticed a blue tit going in and out of our metal BBQ the other day. 
When I opened the lid I was greeted by these hungry little mouths. 
Perfect little place for them really as they've been using the one vent as an entrance and it's only just big enough to let them in and keep predators out. Looks a cosy little nest as well.

I guess it'll be a few weeks till I have a BBQ then - probably would have rained as soon as I lit it anyway! On the bright side it's really nice that the girls can see them up close without disturbing them.

Where's the weirdest place you've ever found a birds nest?


Friday, 15 May 2015

Grow Your Own Plant Pots

This is a little tongue in cheek but I did do it for a reason! 
The other day  I run out of plant pots, I have never planted so much before and I've ended up using everything I can find, I've even been to mums and pinched all her spares as well. It did make me think about preppers and I wondered if they've planned for plant pots and other sundry items that you need when you grow lots of food. What would you do if you couldn't buy any more plant pots to start seedlings off in or to pot on when you're tryign to keep the growing season as long as possible?
Looking around for other containers I found a few squashes that I'd chucked out. 
Rotten squash shells
They sounded hollow when I tapped them.  
Cleaned out ready for a bit of soil
 They'd dried up inside, so all I had to do was bash a hole in the top, scoop out all the seeds and dried flesh and then swill them out. I was left with something that could be used as a plant pot, not just a a wasted vegetable.
Eight in fact, just enough to pot on a few tomato plants as a little experiment.
Tomatoes growing quite happily in their new pots
The plan with these is just to bash out the bottom when I plant the tomatoes on next time and the pot should decompose in time back into the soil. I know I'm not the first to use a squash as a container (I know some gourds were originally bred for this reason - to carry water) but I was quite pleased with my novel little pots.
Who else has been using anything they can find as a pot lately?

Thursday, 14 May 2015

BBQ Pulled pork

I decided to make it up to my wife over the trotter meal a few weeks ago. I cook a BBQ pulled pork shoulder.
I'm going to write it here as I was quite pleased with it and it tasted amazing, I couldn't find a recipe I liked so I just made one up, normally this is a recipe for disaster...
Not a great picture but it tasted good!
1 pork shoulder (mine was de-boned)
2 onions,
5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon of cumin
4 teaspoons of paprika,
1 teaspoon of salt
black pepper
1 teaspoon of mustard powder
vegetable oil
1 carton of Tomato passata
1/2 a cup of cider vinegar

I fried up the onions and the garlic in a frying pan until soft then added them to the pot.
Mix all the spices together and then rub all over the meat, then brown the meat off in the pan.
Put the meat in the pot and then add all the other ingredients. Get a cup of water and deglaze the frying pan with it then add it to the pot as well. 
I cooked mine in a slow cooker for about 7 hours on low, turning it up to high for the last hour. I also removed some of the sauce and reduced this down separately to make a thick BBQ sauce to have on top. The whole shoulder pulled apart with a couple of forks when it was ready to eat.

I served it with roast potatoes and veg the first night, then it went on to make some amazing sandwiches the next day and the following night I fried it all back up, added a tin of red kidney beans and a tin of tomatoes and served it with rice - another great meal! 
Who else likes it when the leftovers are almost better then the original meal!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Porch Up To Damp

Some more progress on the porch over the last couple of weeks.
Last Saturday (2nd of May) a mate of mine, Dill, came over and started on some of the brick work and setting out of the porch and another project I've got going on (more of that another time). I've worked with him lots over the last few years and he's a really good bricklayer and roofer (Some of the projects we've done together can be seen here and here although there are many more) and he's a real hard worker. I made sure that he had everything he needed and all his materials were close to hand.
 He got the brick and block work up to damp course ready for concreting.
This Sunday just gone my dad and brother came over and helped me get the concrete in and done.
Inside and outside were filled with scalpings, the inside is then blinded with sand to prevent any stones piercing the plastic. 

first layer of plastic going in

Insulation added to the floor (75mm) and a 25mm insulation going around the perimeter  of the walls to prevent cold bridges. Another layer of plastic was added on top of this to prevent the concrete reacting with the insulation, although I think this might be an unnecessary step it's on my plans so I do it!
Levels are all worked out from the oak floor inside, allowing enough for quarry tiles, adhesive and then 150mm of concrete.

Concreting finished! 
I'm really pleased to have the porch up to this level (up to damp as we'd say in the building trade). I now need to wait a few weeks for the bricks to come as they have to be ordered in and there's a bit of a shortage at the moment. I already have a door to fit (the old one is coming out as it's on it's last legs) but I need to source some windows and get the materials for the roof sorted. In the meantime we can use the front door again!  
I hope that I can get this porch finished fairly quickly and then get cracking with the the real bulk of the extension, the propect of a bigger kitchen is a real incentive at the moment! That said there are so many things I need to do first it's a little daunting (lots of drainage, manholes, walls, fuel tanks, boilers, etc)! 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Six Chicks Hatch

I try to hatch a few chicks every year. It's good to grow my own replacement chickens, not to mention the fact that the girls, the wife and me love them!
These ones couldn't have been better timed if I had tried. After a rubbish week we came home and had six little chicks hatch the very next day, the girls thought it was wonderful.


 The six hatched out nine eggs so I was quite pleased, the cockerel is still proving his worth. Yesterday I was talking to a farmers wife that commercially breeds chickens for hatching eggs (we're talking thousands upon thousands here) and she was telling me that as the age of the chickens increase they increase the number of cockerels in the pen to maintain the right level of fertility. Really interesting but it also raised a question for me and that's the fact that we don't often look at the complete life cycle of chickens we buy, these were kept indoors but the hatching eggs that they lay and subsequent chickens could have been for free ranged meat birds. Does that still make them free ranged?

I still have a few more broody hens so I'm tempted to buy some hatching eggs off the internet of a different breed - what's your favourite chicken breed? I'm tempted to go for Light Sussex as I used to have these when I used to hatch some as a teenager.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Normal Service Resumed...

We got back out of Hospital on Friday night but it takes a few days to get sorted and your head straight again.
We were kept in for two nights of the three and had to sleep there with her. Over that time she had blood tests, ultra sound on her hips and then on Friday she had to be sedated for a MRI scan (that was worse as it was nill by mouth for the day and the scan was much later than they said). 
The doctors have come up with no real conclusions but they have eliminated many things that it's not (which is good). There is extra fluid on both her hip joints but that is normally accompanied by an infection and an unwell child whereas she's been fine in herself and other than the limp you'd never know anything was wrong.
We have another visit to hospital later this week and in the meantime we just have to hope it clears up on it's own. 
My wife and I would like to say a big thank you for all your well wishes, it felt weird writing it as she's so well in herself, but the messages were lovely to read when we were sleep deprived and feeling down from being stuck in the hospital.
Thanks again

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Slight Interruption

Just a quick note to say that there probably won't be any posts for the next couple of days. 
My eldest daughter developed a limp about four weeks ago and the doctors have been struggling to decide what's causing it. 
On Tuesday they sent us to see specialist after the doctor had looked at the x rays. We went to the hospital and they decided to keep her in, so my wife and I have been taking it in turns. Luckily we all stayed at home last night as they let us out, but tonight we've got to stay overnight again so she can hopefully have a scan in the morning to further investigate what's wrong. 
She'd fine in herself (wants to go home understandably) and is just as happy as ever. The limp doesn't even bother her as she quite happily limps around the place going about her business. It doesn't seem to cause her any pain, but I am glad that we might be getting it sorted even if it does feel a very long winded way of going about things. 
Back Soon!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Good Keeping Apple

I did a little experiment with an apple this year. I left a Sturmer Pippin in my van all winter. Just kicking around in the pocket of the door, no protection or anything.
not pretty on the outside
 I've mentioned before about this apples keeping ability but this really proves it. Although it doesn't look great on the outside the flesh inside is still edible, and I did eat it! It was just starting to go rotten in the middle (I cut this bit out),  and the flesh was a little dry but still had good flavour.
Just starting to go rotten
This year I'll try to store some in ideal conditions and see how they last. I think these could be a great self sufficiency apple and one that would be great in hard times.
Anyone else have a good keeping apple they'd recommend?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Pig's Feet

The other day I bumped into someone who smiled as they saw me and said "I've got something for you!". They then handed me a white carrier bag full of pigs feet! 
Bags of pigs feet
 I'm not squeamish when it comes to foot (as you all know) so these didn't bother me at all. The girls thought they were funny as I chased them around the house with them! 
I did struggle to know what to do with them, I decided on doing them in a Chinese style. I boiled them for two and a half hours with Chinese five spice and load of garlic, ginger and soy sauce. I then put them in a roasting tray, painted sweet chilli dipping sauce on top and roasted them for another hour. 
Boiled for two and a half hours then covered in sweet chilli dipping sauce and roasted for another hour
 They were falling apart by the time I'd finished, they even looked appetising!
Trotter with rice and home grown purple sprouting.
And how were they?


Rubbish! 
If there was three mouthfuls of meat on eight trotters I'd be surprised! 
Not something I'll be trying again any time soon as there is far too much cooking and prep involved for what you get from it - even when they're free. I think you're supposed to eat the grissel and fat as well but there is only so much you can eat. 
Anyone else eat pigs trotters?

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Getting The Sheep In For The First Time

I've been checking the sheep everyday like a good pretend shepherd. 
One ewe has been a little bit lame on her back leg since she arrived, so with the arrival of some of the old hurdles from dads farm I decided it was time to round them up for the first time to have a closer look.
 When I lived on the farm we used to get them in using a scrabbler (dirt bike to the Americans) but there's no such luxury this time. 
We had to do it on foot. 
I made a large pen with a line of hurdles (and the tractor) forming a funnel out into the field and then herded them along the fence line. 
Our neighbours Ken and Liz came and lent a hand to get them in, along with my sister, wife and two little ones, even with all of them it still took us two attempts, but the second time they went in easy.
Hopefully they'll get a bit more used to the bucket and come with the prospect of food, but at the moment there's too much grass for them to bother with a handful of grain!
Trimming feet - so it begins! 
 I was pleased we got them in easy and also pleased that I managed to catch and roll a sheep over - I hadn't forgotten how to do it! I had forgotten how heavy sheep are and how much of a fight they put up. Once they're sat down in the hold in the picture above, they normally stay pretty still. My wife commented that they stay far stiller than our daughters when we're trying to do their nails! I trimmed a few feet and then let them go back into the field.
The eldest daughter getting used to the sheep - she likes the lambs!
Of course as they went out into the field I could see that I'd trimmed the wrong feet and the one was still lame! Looks like I'll be getting them in again this week! 
To be honest it's not a bad thing to get them used to being rounded up and being handled. 
I'm still planning on getting a few more sheep yet and building on the flock, I'm really pleased with the ewes I've got so far.
Anyone else planning on keeping sheep?
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