Sunday 31 January 2016

Another Approved Food Order

I placed another order with approved food the other day. This one was much smaller and I managed to use some credit I'd earnt through recommendations so ti didn't cost too much. 
 Really I was just interested in bread flour as we were out of the cheap stuff we bought last time and I haven't been to Lidl in a while. the flour above was limited to 9 bags per customer but it worked out at 33p per kg and it's not even out of date (march 2016). After this is used up I might bulk buy from FWP Mathews as their 16kg bags work out quite cheap for organic flour ( and not to far from the mothering law so she can save me some postage).
The other thing I stocked up on was spice mixes. A really cheap way to buy spices as these were either 3 or 4 bags for a pound, and sealed up like this I can't see them going off very quickly. We love peri peri and it doesn't have to be on chicken, rabbit or cheap cuts or pork work just as well.

If you're going to buy from Approved food use this link top earn me money off my next shop - I'll be most grateful!

Friday 29 January 2016

Marks On The Drive

The other night I had a shock as I was getting firewood from the wood shed. Someone had put a white cross on the drive. Now we're some way from the road but we are on a public footpath.
 The worst things crossed my mind first. I instantly thought of the supposed marks that thieves leave to mark somewhere with something worth taking, marking a driveway or a gate and then coming back later. 
I went down onto the road and found this mark at the bottom of our drive. I wasn't happy. I scrubbed the marks off, leaving no trace whatsoever along with other marks leading away.
I have since found out that these marks were left by a group of ramblers that like to follow a trail to a certain goal. 
I'm sure they'd say they had the right to mark my drive because it's a public right of way but I disagree. They can walk on it but not mark it in my opinion and I hope I don't catch anyone in the act, it could have really upset and older person who was more paranoid than me (and I can be pretty paranoid) and I think it's irresponsible not to ask a landowners permission first and explain what it is. 
Hopefully they were rambling for quite some time that night. A little evil streak in me wanted to lay a trail going somewhere else completely, to the middle of a pond or something! 

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Fruit trays

I got given some old fruit crates the other day by a guy who lives near to where I've been working. 
 They're lovely old crates but have seen better days. they have some woodworm that needs treating although I don't think I'll be able to keep apples in them if I do. 
I have started to make some new ones up in the workshop, some for myself and maybe some to sell. I want to make practical things that people will use to aid with food storage and keeping fruit and veg longer is a great thing. 
The old guys who made these in the past knew what they were doing and these were the best way to store certain produce before the invention of refrigeration.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Last Years Lambs

Now I haven't mentioned what's happened to the lambs from the ewes last year in a while. 
Unfortunately they hadn't put on enough weight by the autumn and I had two options. Either fatten them up over winter or sell them as "store lambs" which means someone else fattens them up and makes a profit on them. 
The price was at a low when I was thinking about selling them as stores so we decided to hold on to them for a little while longer to see what the market did. 
Covered in Briar's 
 The market is a little better than it was (in fact last week was even quite good) but when I got the lambs in yesterday I could instantly see they hadn't put enough meat on. One or two could have gone for fat (meat sale) but the rest didn't have enough when I felt their backs. 
It's been wet for a few months and it's pretty hard for them living out in it the whole time, not much extra energy for growing meat. We've been giving them some extra corn (wheat and oats) but I think it's now time to up their rations and hope the weather improves to allow some easy living. Hopefully in a months time I should see some improvement and have plenty to sell.
Looking a little better but they still need to grow some more meat on their bones
 One of the reasons I think they didn't put on much meat last year was a lack of minerals, something must have been lacking from the grass. They seemed to get to a stage and then not move on from there. With this years lambs I'm going to creep feed them (give extra feed) early on and try to have them sold by the end of the autumn. I don't want to have to winter lambs again if I can help it. 
A steep learning curve with these animals, I think the 8 years I spent away from sheep I forgot more than I realised. Having focus in other areas hasn't helped this first year and I think I should have been more organised and I got rid of some lambs in the summer when they would have graded but the price was low. 
I'm also planning on killing two lambs myself for home and butchering them here, but we'll see if I find the time for that (best laid plans and all...). 

The ewes are looking good though, great condition, just need to find somewhere to lamb them in April. Currently thinking a quickly erected poly tunnel for a month might be the answer! 

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Buying Chilli Seed

Last year I grew quite a few different chilli plants and I've realised that my tastes are getting slowly hotter. A cayenne would have been far to hot for me a few years ago, now I want a whole one chopped up on a few slices of pizza, loving the kick it gives me! 
So the other day I decided to buy some new seeds and add to what I already grow. It came as a package from a Devon chilli farm and included:
Jamaican Red Saina
Space Chilli
Orange Jalapeno
Pencil Cayenne
Thai Bird's eye

Not sure if I'll plant them all yet or not but the idea of growing some Thai chillies really takes my fancy as I'm hoping I can make some spicy dipping sauce of my own. 
This year I want to be much better at separating them off to ensure they've not cross pollinated for seed saving, I'm thinking about using different windowsills in the house for different varieties but we'll see how that goes, I'm not great with house plants for some reason! 
I think I'll dig out my heated propagator and maybe sow them this weekend to get he longest growing season possible from them. 
When does everyone else sow their chilli seeds? 
Do you use grow lamps early in the year to speed them along?
What's your favourite type to grow?

Monday 18 January 2016

Chicken Feeders

In trying to get my chicken keeping in order I'm planning on changing my feeders.
 I currently use small galvanized feeders. The trouble with these is that all the other animals and wildlife can have a go at it as well. 
Around here there is a lot of shoots where they rear pheasants and they all tend to use spring barrel feeders on legs. So I decided to buy a spring and make a barrel feeder up, I've been thinking about doing this for years and in the end it took about ten minutes to make! 
 The one batch of hens are trying it out, so I'm hoping they get the hang of it quickly.
How do you feed your chickens? What feeder would you recommend to prevent wildlife from stealing it all?

Sunday 17 January 2016

Chicken Clean Out & Sort Out

At the weekend I managed to have a good sort out with the chickens. 
I cleaned all the coops and put fresh bedding in each one. I fixed the one coop by changing the hinges for some much stronger ones.

Wet chickens
I also looked at all the chickens and decide which ones to cull and which ones to keep. 

I've got some hens that have had a year too long as it is and the whole flock starts to look unproductive because of all the old hens I am carrying. The feed starts to cost more than the money I save on the eggs, not only this but because it's so wet more chickens make more mess faster, so having less will be much easier to manage in this wet winter we're having.

I decided that from the one young flock I'm keeping the two new hens that we hatched last year and the cockerels we hatched are still crowing about the place, ready to be eaten on a future Sunday. 

Out of the other pen of 12 birds, I'm keeping the old cockerel and four hens, the other hens are three or four years old now, past their best and time to replace them. I am keeping one of the oldest hens as she is a great broody hen and has hatched out chicks every year, so saves me having to use an incubator. They've now been moved down to the fruit garden for a month or so to let the very muddy pen recover a bit and eat bugs amongst the bushes. 
I'm looking at getting some pure breed birds this year and to start being more selective about which ones I choose to pass on their genetics, generally just keeping chickens but doing it better.

I know that culling hens like this is pretty controversial to some people that read this blog but I make no apologies for posting it here. I need to make sure that these birds pay their way or there is no point in me keeping them. Last year it cost me money to have the chickens here, whereas if I had culled a few more and bought some new hens in I could have been selling the eggs and making enough to cover costs again.

Do you control the number of hens you keep by culling the older birds? How do you manage the stock numbers you keep?

Friday 15 January 2016

Birthday Cake For Our Eldest

Our eldest turns four today and we've been very aware that with the rapid arrival of Alistair this week that birthday celebrations could be a little more subdued than normal. We're having a party for her in a couple of weeks but we wanted to make sure she had a good day today as well. 
So last night I baked a couple of sponges (with swirls of "ice blue" sponge through it as well) then spent a few hours decorating the cake for her. 
Like every four year old girl in the western world she's obsessed with Frozen, so an olaf cake seemed just within my capabilities. I really enjoyed making it and it was a good distraction from all the other jobs I probably should have been doing!
I was quite pleased with the results and it turned out much better than one I attempted a year or so ago which turned out more like peppa pigs fake tanned, junkie relative, Phillipa  pig. I didn't even have to prompt the girls as to who was on this cake which is a good sign! 
My last attempt wasn't great...
My wife and I were talking last night and it seems mad that just over four years ago there were no children sharing our daily lives. 
We feel like a very lucky little family at the moment!

Wednesday 13 January 2016

A Big Thank You!

Just a quick note to say a big thank you for all your lovely messages. 
My wife and I were both overwhelmed with how many messages we received on the Blog, it was lovely reading them all whilst holding him in my arms. Although I've only met a few of you in real life, I do feel like I have some good friends out there in blog land and I was excited to tell you all. 
The girls dote on him already and keep showering him with kisses. The eldest is trying to help all the time, really showing her mothering instinct, fetching nappies and baby wipes. Last night she even dragged the Moses Basket from the landing all the way to where the baby is going to sleep, even though it was far too heavy for her.
Normal posts again soon, maybe with a bit of sleep deprivation thrown into the mix to keep things interesting! 
Thanks again! 

Tuesday 12 January 2016


Alistair was born at 5 minutes to 2 this afternoon at home weighing 8lb 2oz. 
The birth was more dramatic than the last one but just as fast.
It all happened fairly quickly, my wife rung me to tell me she was feeling rubbish just before 1, so I came home from work (I was going to price a job on the way back but she said best not to). A friend from the village then came and picked the girls up, whilst I moved cars about to give the ambulance and midwife somewhere to park. 
By this time my wife was in the bathroom not feeling great and having some pretty big contractions, I rushed about putting down plastic, warming up towels and getting the birthing kit they supply you with ready. 
The next twenty minutes went by like a blur. The midwife was on her way but coming from Hereford (a good half hour away) so the hospital also sent an ambulance as they were slightly nearer. I think I knew straight away that we were going to do this on our own as I could tell she was too far gone. The midwife then stayed on the phone with us the whole time and talked us through it and to be fair she was great and gave some great reassurances.  
To say it was an intense experience is an understatement but what a way to bring our son in to the world! 
Just the two of us, in our home.  
My wife was amazing through the whole thing, hardly making a fuss and it was an incredible experience to share and tie us together forever. I was glad that neither of us panicked and although it was stressful, it did feel like the most natural thing in the world. 
Would I recommend a homebirth to anyone else though? No chance! Far too stressful! 
The girls were so excited to meet him when I picked them up a couple of hours later, so gentle and they kept kissing him over and over! I think he's got some good big sisters to look after him.
My son will now continue the family name! 

Monday 11 January 2016

Muddy Mess

I thought I'd post a little video on here to make you all feel better about what your places are like at the moment. 
It is muddy here. 
When you watch the video please excuse all the building materials and diggers, wheel barrows etc. It's just too muddy to tidy this stuff up without making more mess at the moment.
Field drains and soak aways are needed here and will be added in the future. 
I'm hoping that this time next year it should look a lot better than this! 

Saturday 9 January 2016

For The Hate Of An Advert

My wife and I hate this advert on TV at the moment. 
The premise being that if you work all the time you can make it up to your child by taking them to Centre-bloody-Parks for an over priced break in a log cabin.  The irony of that being that to be able to afford to take your child you'd probably have to take them in term time as the prices double in a the school holidays. 
If it's as bad as the advert makes out, change your job. Don't let your child eat in front of the TV, in fact don't do that anyway. Nothing is worse than a child with no table manors, except maybe an adult. You don;t need to spend hundreds to reconnect as a family, it's as simple as going for a walk, playing hungry hippos on the floor or letting them paint your nails (I like mine green). 

We are constantly manipulated by advertising, made to feel guilty and spend money. My girls watch CBeebies (no adverts) for their downtime and if for some reason they start watching another channel (with adverts) they soon start saying they'd like this or that for no other reason than they've watched these advert, which are aimed directly at them. 

Anyway enough of my rant, I'm off to read a book! 

Friday 8 January 2016

Feeding The Birds

All animals have to have their place on this homestead, if they don't they have to go. Luckily I love watching the birds in the garden, in fact we all do.
I treated the girls to some new feeders for the birds the other day and I was going to buy a big bag of bird food until I looked closer and saw that it was mainly wheat with a few sunflower seeds! No chance! Instead I brought a bag of sunflower seeds and mixed it with the wheat I keep for the chickens (I get that for free from my father - lucky bugger that I am). 

This with some stale bread and an old apple or two should keep the blue tits happy! 
Who else loves feeding the birds? Which garden bird is your favourite?

Wednesday 6 January 2016

New Zealand Yam Harvest

Last year I grew some New Zealand Yams (Ocas), I've only just got round to harvesting them as it's been so mild I had no risk of the frost killing them off, they do say to leave them in the ground for as long as possible but I might have taken that to the extreme!
I brought some from the Real Seed Company and Dawn From Doing It For Ourselves In Wales also sent me a package with them in. It was really good because it gave me a good amount to grow and a good mix of red and white ones as well.
They all grew well over the summer and the leaves were a great snack in the garden, but I didn't realise how well they were growing until I came to harvest them.
White ones
 The girls and I have dug up no end of these. It's been a fun game for them because it's like finding buried treasure, a little shining red or white grub like tuber in the mud, lots of cries of "There's one!" and giggles as they get stuck in the mud. 
Red ones

Getting stuck in! It's pretty muddy here! 

Full builders bucket and that's not all of them! 
We had a full builders bucket of red and white tubers, plus a good few large pots full as well. I cooked them for the first time on New Years Day and they tasted really nice just roasted with the rest of the veg.
I think that these are a great backup crop to have in the garden, a relativity trouble free source of carbohydrates, unaffected by blight, and is meant to store quite well. Another advantage is that very few people will recognise the crop while it's growing. 

Who else has grown these? Any good recommendations for cooking them and storing them?

Monday 4 January 2016

Belly Measuring

I was more than a little disappointed the other day.
The girls decided to measure our bellies. My wife is 9 months pregnant and lets just say the results weren't what I was expecting!
We were measuring the widest points, not our waists by the way! 

Nine month pregnant wife measuring in at 110cm (43") round the widest point! 

Mine was 106cm (42") around the widest points 

The girls wanted in on the fun! 

Together they were still less than either of us! 

I'm a fairly big guy, 6ft and weigh 15 stone, but I'm not fat ( I wear 36" trousers which are baggy on me!)!
I guess it showed me how much smaller my wife is than me normally if she's only just slightly bigger than me when she has another person inside her! Doon;t worry I'm not going to ask everyone to do a widest point belly reveal on here - You can keep that to yourself! 

Saturday 2 January 2016

My Nine Self Sufficiency Goals For 2015 - How Did I Do?

In January I wrote a post with nine self sufficiency goals for 2015, they were pretty ambitious. 
So how did I do?

Increase my growing area - Well I certainly did this. I created a whole new veg garden and although I didn't keep on top of it as much as I would have liked, it produced loads of produce with some food still being in the ground in there now (as well as 150 young apple trees growing on).

I also made some new raised beds in my main veg garden to grow more unusual veg.

We also rented an extra ten acres of land next door to our homestead so this has given us more opportunities to expand in other directions!

Produce more protein on the homestead - With the purchase of 32 sheep and lambs I think we've certainly hit this target, even if we've not tasted any of it yet! We also ate a few cockerels and I grew chickpeas (that the mice ate!).
Improve my composting and "loop closing" - Well I tried on this one but I don't think it was a total success. I made some great compost bins back in March but I haven't used them to their full potential yet and I need to rotate them more often.
Look at experimenting with growing staples - I did a lot of research into this area and read books about growing grain on a small scale but I'm not sure I did that well. I did grow a lot more potatoes this year and New Zealand yams, which are both a great source of carbohydrates. I also grew some chickpeas and sweetcorn but neither crop were successful. 

Increase my number of herbs and spices - I did manage to buy a few more herbs that we now use and grow. The best was the Vietnamese coriander which I'd like to grow each year now as a great addition to curries and salads. I also grew papalo but was somewhat disappointed with it, it was hard to germinate and then the taste wasn't what I was expecting as a replacement for coriander. 

Improve my food storage - This I have done in spades! I've done loads more preserving and also started to learn how to can fruit, My dehydrator has been on more this year than for any I can remember and although the dried apples don't last long the girls enjoy them! I have jars of raspberries to use in cakes and cookies as well. Maybe this year I'll buy a bigger one. 
I have also sorted out a dedicated area to keep the produce that we grow but more on that another time. 

Seed Saving - I said I wanted to save much more seed and start keeping plants apart to do this. I have saved quite a bit of seed from plants that we already grow but done little other than research for selecting plants and using biennials, I have brought two books on the subject and learnt a lot but I'm yet to put it into practice. I might keep my best parsnips from this winter and try to get them to go to seed this year to have my own seed that I've selected. 

Firewood - I increased the willow coppice this year and planted lots more varieties. they've all grown and done quite well but are a while off being firewood yet! My brother and I did pollard some trees and produced a lot of firewood from them as well as cutting up storm damage. I should have done much more with seasoning it though! We've certainly got enough for this winters firewood and some of next years as well, my job helps with firewood as well. 
Baking - Well I've baked more last year than ever before. The girls and me have baked dozens of cakes and hundreds of cookies and I managed to start and use a sour dough culture for the first few months of the year. Since my wife brought me a bread maker we've been using it most days and buy very little bread now, I love having fresh bread each day and can't imagine going back to buying it like we used to. 

So I don't think I did too bad with my goals although there's always more I could do and areas to concentrate on. I think this year I'll do goals to do with our home life as well, improving the house, the extension being a big one! 
What areas do you think I should concentrate on going into 2016?

Friday 1 January 2016

Happy New Year!

We've had another great year on our little homestead and I'd like to thank all of you for sharing it with us.
Face paints for Christmas means we all get painted! 
The next 12 months bring another load of exciting opportunities:
A new baby due any day now, 
Going back to full time work for the next nine months (still self employed), 
The eldest starting school,
Our first lambing here with our flock of 30 or so sheep,
An extension that's definitely going to start this year,
And of course trying to become more self sufficient and self reliant. 

I hope you all keep reading in the new year, I'm sorry I've been a bit irregular lately with postings but I've been trying to finish a job before the new baby comes, so hopefully it'l all be back to normal soon (or as normal as life will get with a new born and two young girls!).
Happy New Year Everyone! 
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