Friday 30 December 2016

16 Self Sufficiency Goals For 2017

My wife has had to go back to bed with the beginnings of a migraine, the boy is having a nap and the girls are watching a film after a busy day at their grandparents yesterday.
I've fed and checked the animals, lit the fire and got enough wood in to see me through until the evening, it's too cold for bedding ridge tiles on anyway so I thought I'd sit down and look at what goals I want to set myself next year and how I'm going to go about them.

1. Gain better control over my growing areas 
I've got two gardens fenced off from rabbits now and this gives me some great growing areas but I'm still not using them as effectively as I could be. Weeds (nettles) have made the fruit garden unharvestable and my large second garden was largely unused last year. This was mainly because I was back at work full time for most of the year so the garden obviously suffered, my time was better spent making money to pay the bills!
This next year should be different though as I'm back at home full time with the children so I'll be spending a lot more time out there. I'm trying to get smarter with weed control, using plastics and mulches. Luckily I did sheet over the whole second garden last year so the weeds didn't take control, this should make it much easier to put into production next year.

2. Garden Smarter Not Harder
I've already made a start on this one. I'm making all my beds modular so that anything I make will fit any garden bed I have. All my beds are to be 10ft by 30" regardless of where they are. Hopefully I'll spend less time looking for the right sized net or plastic and just be able to get straight on to it.
I'm also planning on using comfrey as a boarder to stop creeping weeds getting in.

3. Record Keeping
My record keeping at the moment is pretty terrible! In fact I'd go as far as to say that I don't!
I need to buy a set of scales and a good notebook and record planting times, harvest dates and yields. I like the Mythbusters phrase of "The difference between science and screwing around is writing it down."
At the moment I just plant and use the knowledge in my head if it's going top be enough, a much better approach would be to have some idea of what I'll get at the end compared to how much I'm planting and the yields compared to different times of the year. This would mean that I will have some idea of harvest dates as well and if I decide to go more into growing things for profit then I'll be able to plan the garden much better.

4. Money
I want to make some more money from this place and try to make it so some more of my income comes from me working here rather than away at customers houses. My wife is the bread winner in this household but I still need to earn enough money to cover my expenses and any extras we want.
I want to start making more things in my workshop to sell, as well as growing more produce for sale.
I'm not at the stage where I could start a veg box scheme or CSA but ideally I'd love to be able to supply a few families in the village with their regular supply of vegetables in a year or two.
It's one to work at and in the mean time I can sell any excess produce as well as maybe planting a few crops just for sale. I'm already selling a few apple trees, plants and potting trays through my Etsy shop, but local veg sales would be great as well.

5. Staples
This year we grew hardly any staples, I didn't even grow any potatoes and I really missed having some lovely early new potatoes to have with a salad.
Next year I'm going to plant more early potatoes, I'm still not going to bother with main crop as they're so cheap though, there's a couple of places I might add a few new beds so they'd be great to help break the compaction of the soil.
I also want to experiment with some alternative grains, Some of my friends grew quinoa this year and had great success with it so I might pinch a bit of their seed and plant up a bed or two to see what I can gain from it, I'll try to get them to send me the pictures so I can do a post on what they did to get their harvest.
I'm going to try again (one last time) with chick peas. The mice love them so much that I have only had a few fresh peas int eh two years I've had them growing!

6. Be better at harvesting and preserving 
We all waste some food that we grow but I want to decrease how much we waste, freeze it straight away if I'm not going to use it or do more small batch preserving to keep it stored for when we want it. Dehydration is another method that I don;t sue enough.
I also need to harvest things earlier so the bad weather and other factors doesn't wreck so many crops, I left some beans for drying this year but a spell of wet weather made them unusable, I also lost some beets to rodents that could have been prevented if I had lifted them and stored them inside.

7. Be more proactive on dealing with problems
If I see a problem I need to sort it straight away and I need to keep on top of some problems constantly. This is true of the mice and voles in the garden. They are a constant annoyance, stealing or wrecking crops in the garden. I have built these little trap stations to help deal with the problem but I need to be consistent with checking and resetting the traps to try to keep pests out of the garden.

The same is true with netting crops against the birds, just the other day I was thinking how good my purple sprouting was looking and then in just one day the pigeons did some serious damage to them. If I had kept them netted I wouldn't have had the problem (Although I did take the nets off to net my chickens due to the avian flu warning).

8. Grow More 
As our family gets bigger we just need more of everything that I grow. I could have planted 5 times the carrots I did this year and it still wouldn't have been enough!

9. Seed Saving
I've been getting better at this but I'm along way from self sufficency on this one! Having a larger number of smaller beds should mean that I can dedicate areas to growing more crops for seed.

10. Hard and Soft fruit
My soft fruit this year has been terrible and we've all really missed it. I'm tempted to start a new soft fruit garden from scratch and try to keep much better control over it. I want lots of interesting varieties so we have harvests over lots of months.
I also want to plant some more apple trees around the homestead, as well as plums and pears. My girls eat fruit like it's going out of fashion so the more we have the better in future years!

11. Improve the Coppice Area
The willow coppice is growing well but I did nothing to it last year. I still need to increase the number of willows by a few hundred and the bottom area I'd like to create more of a food forest area with soft fruit and herbs.

12. Building work 
Not really a goal for self sufficiency but I want most of the building work finished as soon as possible so I can concentrate on other things. Having the extension usable would be great to give us more space as a family and having the patio and top bit of garden finished would be great for the kids and so we can have friends round for BBQ's in the summer! Repaying friends and family with food is a great way to self sufficiency!

13. Herbs and Spices
I grew a number of different herbs last year and I'd love to do the same again this year. Ideally I'd like to sell a few to local restaurants if I could grow enough. I use herbs in everything I cook so it would be great to have a wider range of them growing here.

14. Baking
I want to keep baking loads of  bread and try to experiment with different types. I need no encouragement here, I love baking and I love my food, maybe I should be more concerned with my waist line!

15. Animals
I want to make sure that I keep on top of the animals here, with me being in charge of them rather than the other way round. I'm going to be better prepared for lambing and keep being proactive in controlling my chicken flock numbers.
The girls also want pigs, the pen is ready and I can't think up of any more excuses so that might happen in 2017!

16. Declutter
I think we have too much "stuff". If we had less then I think we'd be far nore efficient in finding things and getting jobs done. Things like cleaning and tidying would also become easier as well. Trouble is it's hard to break the habit of a lifetime...

What other goals do you think I should set for myself? 
I'm not planning on doing them all, but if I can move forward with each one then I should be on the right road! 

Have you set any goals in a similar vein for yourself this year?

Wednesday 28 December 2016

My 2016 Review!

It's getting towards the end of the year so I thought that now was a good time to look back and see what went well and what didn't.
It's quite a long post so I won't be offended if you don't read it all!

Children & Family
Well what a year it's been on that front!
I think delivering our son on the bathroom floor with just my wife and I will forever be one of my most amazing memories of my life. It was a great start to the year and it's been amazing seeing him become such a little character.

My wife and I have had a good divide on the the child care this year as well, with my wife being on maternity leave for the first nine months and then me taking over again once she went back to work. It's funny though as the girls always expect one of us to work, even on Christmas day they couldn't understand that we were both going to spend all day together with them (even though neither of us tend to work away on Sundays, but they have some funny logic at that age)!

My eldest also started school so that has been a major change of pace for me, with the school run to deal with and a morning nursery for my youngest daughter two days a week I have become a taxi service that runs to the village quite a few times a day! She loves school though and has made lots of friends so it's a really positive thing.
We've also managed to spend a lot of time together as a family, which is always really important. I guess I've been here much more as I've been working on this place or my work has been much more local, that means that we've had many meals together around the dinning room table as well as lots of days out and a very wet holiday to Wales!
I've also spent the most time with my dad since I've left home as he's been here a lot this year helping with the extension. My brother has helped loads as well and mum has been great for extra childcare so I can do some work to the extension in the week.
This is as well as the rebrand on the blog that my sister and brother inlaw did eariler in the year making this blog look a bit more professional in time for my talk at Hellens garden festival!
It's was my brother's wedding as well this year so that was a great family day.

I went back into full time work in January and I wasn't sure how it was going to go having only done part time for a couple of years before hand. But luckily word got out and I got booked up very quickly, I'd invested myself into being part of this village and the village supported me back. For the nine months I didn't have to travel very far for work (not more than 5 miles most of the time) and it was generally for people that I knew or were recommended by friends (so no risk on payments which was great). Playgroups provided lots of work - an untapped market! And I made lots of friends with other tradesmen locally, which can only be a good thing for work and for getting things done around here.
Since coming back into the stay-at-home parent role I've turned quite a bit of work down as I want to concentrate on jobs here and make it a better place for us to live.

Lots of homesteading skills practised this year! I've done some more canning with friends as well as lots of jam and chutney making. Doing it with friends seems to be the way forward as it's so much more fun with a few of you, you just need weird friends first and I seem to be blessed with that one!
I've also been baking like there's no tomorrow, from Chelsea buns to different breads and rolls. It's rare that I use the bread maker to bake a loaf these days, preferring to cook it free form instead. I've also had my measure of baking mistakes, I've forgotten the yeast more times than I'd care to admit! 
We've eaten well this year as well, getting some meat and other produce in bulk and cooking from scratch to make sure we know what we're eating and where it's come from. 
Anyone that knows me knows that food is important to me so I always make this a high priority! 

I haven't had the time I'd have like to give the garden this year but it's still produced quite well. I've got big plans for next year (I have big plans every year to be honest!).
The soft fruit garden has gone out of control with weeds and I fear I might have to start again down there, but the veg garden has been just on the cusp of being under control. Mum has come and helped out with this one and using black mulch has been a revelation, especially rather than leaving a plot bare.
The veg has been great quality but now our family has got bigger I need to grow loads more than I currently am. I could have planted 5 times the carrots I did and it still wouldn't have been enough, the same with beets. My brassicas weren't very good this year either and after I'd harvested my kohl rabbi I had cabbages that didn't heart up for instance and other thigns that didn't grow enough. I was much better at growing salad this year and gave over much more space to it. I sowed mustard's, mizunas and the like in rows and this seemed to work really well for us.
I also experimented with some more unusual fruits and veg, growing cucamelons outdoors was a good experiment (They fruited really well but a good couple of months behind), I also grew yacon which was really tasty and tried growing some things in different ways like one truss tomatoes through plastic.
The orchard produced some fruit for us this year but still not yielding as much as I'd like. The cordons produced loads and I loved going into the garden to try different types of apples, planting up a line of cordons is certainly something I'd recommend to anyone who likes apples!
I still need to be more organised and my small greenhouse wasn't used to it's full potential, each year I say I'm not going to keep seedlings in pots for months if I haven't planted them, and each year I do the same thing and chuck them out at the end! Next year I'll be more organised in my greenhouse!
I feel I learnt lots from this years gardening and I can't wait to put some of it into practice next year!

I think this year has been a good learning one on this front! Not all has gone to plan but it could have been much worse.
Chickens have been as easy as ever, I've kept my flock to certain age by culling old hens and we've hatched out a few more chicks for the children as well as buying some more ex commercial hens to keep numbers up. Selling the eggs covers feed costs but the Avian flu has been a bit of a pain as the hens have to be kept in a much smaller pen to keep the wild birds out.
The sheep has certainly tested me this year. Lambing didn't exactly go to plan but it still all worked out. I don't think I'd ever been as thin as was when I was lambing this year, I think I must have walked that field hundreds of times each week, lambing outside is not for the faint hearted! I'm going to do a post on lambing outside at some point with some tips I learnt along the way.
The lambs are all gone now and I'm already thinking about lambing next year and how I can improve. Hopefully numbers will be better and I seemed to have a run of bad luck where I basically had every illness that sheep or lambs could have one after the other, even the shepherds I ask for advice couldn't believe the run of luck I was having - hopefully that's the bad luck with sheep used up for now! 

Field and Trees
Having sheep in the fields really improves the pasture and they all looked really good in the summer. I didn't make any hay this year, instead I rotated the sheep far more often and my neighbour topped the grass when it started to get leggy.
I didn't plant many tree this year, but what I have planted in the past four year (over 500 trees I'd guess at) are doing well. I have lots of apple trees to sell this year that I have grafted previously and my willow coppice is coming along slowly.
My brother undertook a big job on one of our big oak trees and removed all the dead wood as well as reducing the crown. This should mean that it lasts a lot longer than it was going to as large limbs are less likely to fall out of it and damage it further than it already has been.

Major Projects
I'm quite pleased with this one! Of course it could be much further on but the extension has moved on loads this year. It's a shame I haven't finished the roof completely - the frost the last few days has stopped me. And it's funny looking back to 2014 and seeing that I thought I was going to be doing it fairly soon! 

I wasn't sure how far we'd get with this but once we got out the ground it seemed to go up quite quickly. I had many nights moving bricks by torch light but it was all worth it.
We also did loads to the patio and steps, as well as draining the field by the house. It's certainly made this winter far less muddy and depressing! Last year you could loose a boot if you stepped in the wrong place!


It's been an amazing year, it seems to have gone like a blur though! Both my wife and I have worked some long hours through it and had many a sleepless night but I think it's a year I'll look back on really fondly.

Having a blog has been amazing again this year. I've loved all the comments and advice I've got over the last 12 months, it really encourages me to do more and to know I'm not struggling alone! So another huge thank you to anyone that reads, follows, or comments on this blog and for the emails and messages I receive and the friendships I've forged!

As we get more and more infrastructure in place hopefully things will get easier as we go on here, although I'm always changing the goal posts and I don't think I ever want things to be too easy!

Here's to a great 2017!

Tuesday 27 December 2016

A Great Christmas

We had a truly magical Christmas day. 
The children loved their presents, each having a favourite - the girls loved their princess dresses and bikes whilst the boy loved a big box that a seat came in and was laughing so hard at going in and out of it that it was hilarious! 

Lunch was incredible, we had a locally sourced Cockerell instead of a turkey which was beautiful and tender, as well as lots of veg out of the garden. It was four o'clock before we had enough room to eat my wife homemade Christmas pudding that she'd made with friends a month ago (one of the nicest I've ever eaten if I get the recipe I'll post it on here!).

We then watched some films, read some books and tried not to eat anything else!

A lovely relaxing day spent with my wife and children, what more could I ask for?

How was your Christmas day? Hope you had a good one!

Saturday 24 December 2016

T'was The night Before Christmas...

High levels of excitement in the house tonight. 
I've just read the children "The night before Christmas" like my dad used to read my brother, sister and I on Christmas Eve when we were young.
They've asked for so little it's truly lovely. They just love the magic of it all.

Can't wait to see their faces tomorrow morning. 

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Friday 23 December 2016

5 Years ago today

It's been a week since I've posted but it's been busy! I'll write about what I've been up to later though.

I was lay in bed this morning, with my wife asleep next to me and our three children in the other bedrooms, thinking about how five years ago on this day (23rd) was the first morning in this place and our first full day here. 
I don't need to write what's changed in our lives since then as I'm blessed to have made some lovely friends via this blog who get to share in all that we've done here and I'd like to thank you all for that. 

But I did want to write about one thing that hadn't changed in all that time and be a bit soppy for once. 

My love for my wife
She is an amazing, clever, thoughtful, determined, funny, beautiful woman. She is an incredible mother to our children and wife to me, I can honestly say that no one knows me better than her or how to bring out the best in me.
Early next year we'll have been together fifteen years, we met as late teenagers and grew and became adults together and have shared some truly amazing moments through our lives. 
I can't wait to wake up next to her on Christmas morning and enjoy what will be a magical day, but not without all the hard work that she has been putting into it each night for weeks.  

I know I have a lot to be thankful for in life but my wife truly is the heart of it. 
Love you my wife x

Friday 16 December 2016

Row Cover Chicken Run

Sometimes you come up with an idea you're really proud of and this is one of them. 

As many of you know I've been altering my veg beds to all be the same size, all 30" wide by 10ft long. The width is what has been recommend by many experienced market gardener, Jean Martin Fortier, Curtis Stone and Ellot Coleman to name a few.

Having changed around about 40% of my beds over to this already I can really see the advantages, being modular it means that every bit of plastic/weed matting I cut for mulch can be used for any bed, the same applies to netting to cover crops. I don't have to search through to find one that fits. Also with this width bed it means I can weed or harvest the whole bed from one side. 

I was thinking that I should take it one step further and make up some frames that I could use as row covers. These frames could easily be moved over any crop that needed protection, without having to stake netting down or set up the hoops each time.

So I made this and my mind got working again. These frames could also be used for fleece or for clear plastic, making little poly tunnels to extend the growing season or grow more heat loving crops like tomatoes, peppers or chillies. 
This really increases my undercover growing area and should mean that I get crops earlier and later than I do now, or I can protect crops much easier. With some spring clamps I can hold up the side when I come to weed or to ventilate my mini poly tunnels in the summer.

The frames were made easily with some treated 3x2 timber, and five lengths of blue alkathene pipe (cut to suit the size of netting I have which is 6ft in width). I inserted dowel into the bottom of each pipe so it wasn't squished when I screw it up. Netting is held down by clipping over some screws and washers but I'll also get some spring clamps.

Cheap and built with materials that are easy to get hold of. The netting I use is scaffold debris netting as I find it stretches really well (I do have finer netting but I don;t tend to use it that much).

Then I took it one step further again and decided to build a chicken coop to fit inside. This little coop is to house just two birds that can peck their way through all the bugs and weed seeds in a bed as well as finishing off what was left of a crop.
The idea behind this coop is that it is suspended on the two hoops to keep it from the ground, preventing rodents from taking up residents under it. Also it increases the lifespan of the coop as if it's not in contact with the ground then it won't rot as fast.

I made the coop very lightweight, out of left over roofing batten and left over uPVC  fascia board that I used as cladding (I hate cladding in plastic but better than it going to the tip and it was a free!). I didn't fit a bottom to the coop meaning that their dropping fall straight to the ground, although half of the coop is taken up with a nest box (which they are already using). Hopefully the chickens won't mind this, but if the lack of a bottom affects them I can soon alter it. 

As for fox proof the fox won't be able to dig under it as all my beds are surrounded by slabs but he could bite through the netting, although I think this is unlikely as my veg beds are quite near the house. Time will tell on this one! 

I think I plan on making about four of these frames up to start with and I'll see how I get on with them. The chickens are already in the first one I made and really enjoying being put on a fresh bed and digging through it. I'm looking forward to getting some poly tunnel plastic and making my mini poly tunnels, should really increase what I can grow next year! 

Please watch the video and let me know what you think of my new idea! Who would want some of these in their garden?

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Cottontail Farm

Just a very quick post to recommend a blog I've been enjoying lately over at Cottontail Farm.
It's written with a wicked sense of humour and an obsession with growing and seeds that I'm sure many reading here will feel an affinity with, as well as ducks, turkeys, chickens and quails to keep things interesting. 
Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Busy Time Of Year (Kids)!

I'm pretty much a full time taxi in my life these days, just running children around! 
Don't get me wrong, I love it but everyday seems quite full especially with my eldest going to school now, there's always something to remember, a non uniform day, a pyjama party, a wool jumper day, cake sale - you get the idea! 
The plus side is you can't help to feel Christmassy even if you're a humbug like me. 
In the last week or so I've watched my eldest in her nativity play (so lovely), been to the Christmas fair at school (my Chelsea buns went down well!), had friends round for lunch, been to a playgroup party and sat on Santa's knee (think I nearly crushed him) and coming up I've got my younger daughters play on Friday as well as the girls having parties to attend to on different days!

I'm useless at remembering things but having three kids in different places is certainly keeping me on my toes! I've also got some seriously tired children to deal with each night! Role on the end of term!

Sunday 11 December 2016


I saw this on YouTube and it was so beautiful that I had to share it with you all.
Gave me goosebumps

Far better than me shouting "Come on Sheep!"

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Avian Flu Warning

So this morning the UK Government has issued a warning about avian flu and recommended that all poultry and other domestic birds be kept inside for the next 30 days. It also goes on to say that if this isn't possible then measures should be taken to reduce poultry movement and to minimise direct and indirect contact between them and wild birds. 

Well there's no chance of keeping mine in as I tend to keep the coop quite small and give the birds a large run. As I get up early this seems to work well for my birds, but not great when something unpredictable like this happens. 

The alternative is to net the run to keep the wild birds out. This is easier said that done! Above is a video of what my chicken run looks like now - It resembles a third world shanty town but it should keep the wild birds out for the next 30 days. My other birds are also going to have a reshuffle, a few will be culled tonight and whilst the young chicks will have to stay in the broody ark for a while longer yet. 
I want to make a little movable ark to fit my new garden beds to include chickens in my garden rotation, so it looks like that project it get moved up the priority list a bit now. 

What measures have you had to take? Or are your birds already in enclosed runs? What about the wild bird droppings, would they be a problem as well?

I'm not sure disinfection foot baths are really going to work here as I think that's for more sterile environments than my muddy field, like commercial enterprises. 

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Peter Cook's Bread

I'm very fortunate to live in an area that seems to have a lot of people who care passionately about food. Locally there are people that make cider, cheese, grow good livestock and a great butchers in the village. The butchers also sells fresh bread
Now I bake bread most days but I still think it's great that there is fresh bread available just a mile from my door, when I have bought some it's been lovely and very different to what I bake; sour doughs, cider crumb, rye breads, ciabatta, etc. 
Kneading techniques
I saw on Facebook that the hotel in the village was having a 2 hour demonstration by Peter Cook, the man that bakes the bread and sells it to local shops around the area. He has quite a following in the village and everyone raves about his bread (rightly so) so I thought I'd go. 
Showing some focciaca dough
It was just £5 for 2 hours and I picked up so many tips and learnt that I'm doing quite a few things differently to him (some might say wrong but I still make good bread!). He made, but didn't cook, some Chelsea buns, a focciata and talked about his sour dough loaves. I'm planning on making some Chelsea buns for the school bake sale on Friday so hopefully I should make them even better this time round! 
Rolled up ready to be cut into pieces to make Chelsea buns
What really came across was this mans passion about what he did and that he believes in good local real food and real bread. His loaves are all made by hand and some of them are three days in the making, he even says that some gluten intolerant people can eat his loaves just due to the fermentation times that the yeasts have to work. He could name all his suppliers and even collected spring water from the Malverns to use in his sour doughs.

I think I might have to book on one of his day courses and do some more learning. 

Anyone else have great local producers of food?

Sunday 4 December 2016

A Cool, Frost Free Place

How often do you see this with gardening tubers that you buy or want to store? 
"Store in a cool, frost free place".

Finding one isn't always as easy as it should be. I have a shed here that is well insulated but it still can go below freezing if we have a long spell of cold weather. Last week I was worried that with temperatures going below -6 Degrees Celsius that the shed would also dip below freezing.

I'd planned for this and the shed has some power in there, as well as this I had a little fan heater that I was planning to use. 

A cheap fan heater

I never trust the thermostat on these cheap heaters so instead I bought a thermostatically controlled switch. It cost £35 and the idea behind it is really simple, if the temperature you set it to dips a degree below, it switches on what ever you have plugged in until the temperature gets to where you want it to be (if that's makes sense).
The new switch

I've also got a digital thermometer in there as well so I'm not just relying on the one on the plug. It also records the maximum and minimum temperature so I can see the range of temperatures that the shed is giving my produce. 
Just to double check and to see the range of temperatures. 
I was really pleased with it, with all that cold weather the shed stayed at around 5 degrees, only dipping to 4 degrees before the heater would kick in a for a minute or so (very infrequently as the shed holds it's temperature really well).
So although it's not a root cellar I have got a frost free place to keep my things overwinter. That way crops like my yacon and oca can be stored and planted again for next year without having to buy them again. Kind of like having a big fridge! 
The switch will also work in reverse if you had a air con unit you wanted to set up to keep temperatures cool in the summer. 

Do you have a cool, frost free place to store tubers?

Friday 2 December 2016

Disappointing Oca Harvest

 A couple of days ago (before this heavy cold frost) I had a dig around my Oca (New Zealand yams) bed (this post is in response to Sol asking when to harvest them - in truth it's a guessing game!). 

We had a frost that killed them the earlier in the month so I left them a good three weeks, where the tubers are then meant to swell, the later this happens in the year the better as they only form the tubers as the days get shorter. 
I only dug up half the bed and I was very disappointed by the results, the tubers are all small and very few in number. Compared to last years harvest where I had a couple of buckets worth it's going to be slim pickings with only enough to replant really. 
I'm going to leave the other half in the bed a little longer and see if that makes any difference to the size of the tubers. All i need to worry about is pests and them rotting in the ground so it's a bit of a gamble.
It's a shame as this is a crop with such potential, but it needs some development to make it a predicable crop that produces tubers eariler. 
I've recently joined the Guild Of Oca Breeders to help to try out new varieties in the hope of finding some that crop earlier. I'll do a post about what they get up to another time, I just need to decide how much space I should dedicate to this crop in future - when it's good it's very very good, and when it's bad it's dreadful!
Who else has harvested their yams yet? 

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Five Root Vegetable Stew

I was in the garden today getting some veg for tea. I decided I was going to cook a stew with the brace of pheasants I brought home from the shoot on Saturday
I managed to get pretty much all the ingredients from the garden. The veg in the picture above is (left to right) leek, parsnip, black Spanish radish (a cooking radish) salsify, scorzonera and Jerusalem artichokes. I added a bunch of herbs from the garden and some potatoes I've got stored in the shed

I've not tried Salsify or scorzonera before and I was very impressed with how they tasted (I'll do a post on them another time). 

The Black Spanish Radish on the other hand isn't doing very well at winning me over at the moment. It's easy to grow and sowed really late, but tastes very bitter, even when cooked. So far we've tried stewing it and roasting it and both times I've left most of it on my plate and the girls haven't touched it. 

It's a real shame we're not liking the taste as it's so easy to grow and being late in the season means you can grow it when another crop has finished. I was under the impression that it was meant to be fairly mild when cooked and a good bulking vegetable in soups and stews, to me it almost taints the whole dish. 
Does anyone else grow this vegetable? 
What am I doing wrong when I cook it?

Monday 28 November 2016

Self Seeded Kale

On the shoot on Saturday there was a section in the between two parts of the woods that had been sown with a cover crop. 
In amongst the weeds there were hundreds of kale plants standing about 4ft tall, I'm afraid my picture isn't very good but you can just about see a big kale plant on the end of the row. 

When I asked about this one of the guys who runs the shoot said they cleared this patch of land and sowed some kale five years ago, since then they've left these patches to their own devices. The plants have been growing, flowering and setting seed all by themselves, despite the heavy weed competition and how it's bound to have been predated on by bugs and birds. 

Pretty amazing I though. 

It just shows that if you can find a bare patch of land that's not going to be touched then a guerrilla type gardening style could help to feed you! 

What plants do you have that keep coming back year after year from self set seed?

Saturday 26 November 2016


I had a great days shooting today. 
I didn't take many pictures today - this is one from last time! 
Back in the summer I worked on a hotel extension and worked with a cracking group of lads (I've mentioned them before when I went clay shooting a few months back). One friend I made is really keen on his shooting and when he heard that I liked to shoot he invited me along for a days shooting. I jumped at the chance!

This shoot is just the other side of the hill from me and was set in some beautiful countryside and woodland, as always it was just a joy to be outside, watch the dogs work and have some good company, but I did manage to shoot a few pheasants as well.

It's also the first time on a shoot where I've had an offer of marriage! This happened when I brought a full tray of Chelsea buns that I baked this morning with me, covered in icing. To start with they wouldn't believe that I made them, and then, once convinced, people were offering to buy trays from me, before the one guy got very affectionate about my cooking! He wasn't my type anyway! 
They seem quite keen for me to come back on another day, good cake is always a good way to make friends and influence people! 
The bag today, not huge but every bird collected - 12 brace of pheasants, 2 brace of pigeons and a squirrel. 
I came back with a brace of pheasants on my shoulder and a smile on my face, a good way to spend a day. 

I did have a comment on my Facebook blog page asking how I could feel pleased with myself for killing our wildlife, I can understand why people feel like this when not faced with all the facts and it's tricky not to get into an argument where both sides have already made up their minds. Here was my response:

Arguing against someone that is against shooting is generally not worth it as both sides already have their minds made up. All I will say is that although you see the product at the end of a days shooting, what you haven't seen is the weeks of work that have gone into maintaining the woodland where we shot by the people that run it. Today we shot around 30 birds but they breed and put down around 400-500 on this shoot every year to have nine days shooting. Spending time in these woods today I could see countless habitats that have been created because of these shoots, big patches of kale and over cover crops that provide food and shelter for far more than pheasants, areas cleared to let young tree grow, wood left to rot to provide habitat for other wildlife. Even the RSPB has said that well managed shoots benefit other wildlife ( This isn't to go into the economical benefits that shooting brings to the countryside. This isn't me looking for an argument, just stating how I feel about something I feel quite passionately about.

I guess I'm always courting controversy when I post these type of posts but sod it, this is my record of how I live. 

Is anyone else going shooting this year or already been? 

What is your favourite game dish? 

Friday 25 November 2016

Leftover Porridge Cake

And I give you "leftover porridge cake"

It's impossible to predict how much breakfast my three are going to eat, some days they eat the lot, others they barely touch it. 

Today they just weren't interested but I decided not to waste it. I invented a very stodgy cake instead. 

I mixed up half a cup of butter, a cup of sugar, a cup and bit of self raising flour (I'm really that precise!) a teaspoon of cinnamon, 2 eggs and the left over porridge (and out 2 cups worth i think. Oh and a good handful of currents (they're called yeah yeahs in this house for some reason). Mixed it all up and then split it between two 8 inch cake tins. 

Cooked at 180 until done (about 20 minutes or so) not forgetting to turn your cakes round if your stupid oven cooks more one side than the other like ours does.

Then got them out the oven, put a bit of golden syrup on the bottom one and spread it round before plonking the other on top. 

Tastes pretty good to me!

For bonus points, if you want to up the difficulty level of this cake, try doing it with a ten month old child clinging to your leg and using your trousers to wipe his snotty nose on. Makes it far more fun I can assure you. ..

Thursday 24 November 2016

Why We Don't Wash Our Eggs

I sell my spare eggs each week, normally to friends in the village, either through playgroup or at the school gate (where I feel strangely like a drug dealer trying to push eggs onto people!).
Egg shaming picture on Facebook - all good fun. 
It's been pretty muddy around here lately with all the rain and the eggs are showing it! I've changed the bedding but it soon gets dirty again. I keep getting digs about how dirty they are, all in good humour (and I give as good as I get) but I keep telling them I can't wash them, they keep coming back so it can't be that bad! 

If you wash them the protective film is washed off as well and then we'd have to store them in the fridge. Apparently most people in the Us store their eggs in the fridge where as over her they're just kept on the side. This article here explains why we don't refrigerate them far better than I could. 

I do remember fridges having egg racks in them years ago but that seems to have gone now. 

Do you keep your eggs in the fridge or on the side?

Do you wash your eggs before sale?

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Homemade Chelsea Buns

I have fond memories of Chelsea buns from when I was a child (they're kind of like an American cinnamon roll), my aunty owns a pub and her daughter, my cousin, used to bake them, and I remember eating them greedily. 
Good way to spend a rainy afternoon
On Monday I got back from playgroup ready to divide up some dough to make some rolls but when I opened the machine I saw that I'd done my favourite trick of forgetting the yeast. Bugger I thought.
That's wrecked lunch. Luckily we had some wraps in the cupboard so then my mind wondered over what to do with the spare dough.
I could have just added the yeast and made some rolls like I had planned to, but I had sweeter things on my mind (and a three year old to entertain), so not only did I add the yeast I also added currants, eggs, and more flour. This I then set to mix again before getting the dough out onto the side.
A good helper
My daughter loved this bit, we then got to roll out the dough before adding a spread made up of brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, with more currant for good measure.
We rolled the dough up and cut it into 1 inch thick pieces, laying them onto a baking tray. 

Dough proving
We then had to go and do the school run, I think we were gone a bit too long as they had risen a bit more than they should of, but they cooked fine. With any dough I normally have the oven on full blast and then as soon as I put anything in I turn it down to 200 degrees. 

Cooked, two did catch a little bit! 
Some of the bigger ones did catch a little bit, but it made no difference to the taste - They tasted amazing! 

They are rather lovely! 
My eldest was pleased with her snack when she got home from school, in fact I had them all begging me for more once they finished their third of one! 
Not bad really when you consider the ingredients probably came to less than a pound!

What do you like to bake using dough other than bread?
Is there anything you wish you could make?

Monday 21 November 2016

Daily Meal Budgets?

Now I don't tend to plan very much when it comes to meals. They're all homemade, except for Friday where we have a bought pizza that's cooked at home, and normally contain a mix of store cupboard ingredients, garden produce and either meat from the freezer or butcher.

As our little family is getting bigger all the time I'm obviously having to cook more and more food. My eldest daughter, who is nearly five now, will eat nearly as much as my wife on a good day, I eat enough for two most of the time and my two smaller children are starting to have more on their plates (although they tend to waste a fair bit of theirs at the moment).

As anyone that reads this knows I buy a lot of food in bulk where I can (see the potatoes post here) and having lots growing in the garden helps as well, I'll sometimes just go out there and see what is ready and plan my meals around that, making a particular veg the star of the show. The same is true of meat as well, I'm quite often given pheasants and other game when it's in season as well as shooting some myself, all helping to keep meal costs down (pheasant fajitas are a winter staple here).
This picture is from a harvest 8 years ago! 
But when I look at the cost of an evening meal I tend to budget around the five pound mark if I have to buy things for it, some will be much more expensive (steak from the butchers but with homemade wedges) and many will be far cheaper though (leek and potato soup with home made rolls for example). But if I go into the butchers I know that I can say to him that I want roughly £5 worth of whatever and the rest of the meal is going to cost very little due to how we buy everything else.

So what do you budget per meal? Do you meal plan?

Saturday 19 November 2016

A Preppers Paradise?

Or Recluses dream?
Saw this property for sale and I thought that there be a few of you on here that would love to buy this place if you even won the lottery!
I saw it on Rightmove the other day. 
It's your own 2.5 acre island off the welsh coast with a 10 bedroom house, for what I think is a really good price at £550,000. 
It's listed and needs a massive amount of work and I'd imagine that it would be tricky to get builders and materials out there costing a lot of money. 

It was an old garrison built in the 1800s, to house 100 men but turned into a hotel in the 1930's. 
It even has it's own sauna and a garden where you could grow your crops.

What do you think? 

The perfect island to escape to with a select group whilst the rest of the world burned? 
Or would it be too remote for you and Amazon & Tesco's struggle to deliver would put you off?
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