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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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?