Wednesday 27 December 2017

How did I do against my self sufficiency goals for 2017?

It's nearly the end of the year so I thought I'd do the cliche post of looking back at how things went. I'll look at how I did against my 16 self sufficency goals that I set for myself for 2017. These were rather optimistic though so please bare that in mind...

1. Gain Better control over my growing areas.

This is a yes and a no to this one! I certainly have the veg garden under control now, but I still need to work on the edges and find a way to control round the outside. I have planted comfrey around the perimeter so I hope this will form a barrier that I can mow up to. Weed mebrane has been a game changer as well.

My fruit garden on the other hand is completely out of control and I'd go as far as saying it's beyond saving. My plan with that is to cover it over with plastic and leave it for a year. I'm going to start a new fruit garden in the orchard, with wide rows and hopefully some annual beds in between, watch this space for that one!

2. Garden Smarter Not Harder

I've been really trying with this one!
All my garden beds are now the same size and I think by the end of the year I am up to 54 beds at 10ft by 30inches. I love this size, find it easy to work, although I do have a few double the length. I have weed membrane burnt with the right holes for different crops, hoops and net that will fit any bed, it just seems a great way to work.
A push seeder has also helped me be far faster when it comes to direct sowing and using standard cell trays has made me better at transplanting.
I also had a few failures as well. The strawberry planter I made up (behind the girls in the photo above) is a great example of this. It just wasn't working, taking too long to water in the hot weather so I just abandoned it!

3. Record Keeping
Well I certainly tried at this one but unfortunately I seem to have stopped around August time!
I will try harder next year, it is the key for success I think! At least I know when I started to grow things and how early things went in. The peas are certainly something I'll be trying to get in just as early this next growing season, as well as beets and carrots. I was pleased with how soon we were getting proper harvests from the garden this year.

4. Money
Well this didn't happen! I did sell excess produce at playgroup and at the school gate. I supplied a couple of friends with veg boxes during the summer, one friend had one every couple of weeks, there isn't much money in selling veg but it helps pay for the obscene quantities of seed that I buy each year!
I had a good lambing and sold the lambs as stores in October, not great money but it's nice lump before Christmas.
I did my first paid garden club talk, this was something I really enjoyed so I'll be looking at putting myself out there more next year, I already have a few talks booked up.
Next year I'm going to concentrate on getting the extension finished then I can look at finding some other revenue streams that can be based from here.

5. Staples
I certainly made some effort with this. I grew a double bed of quinoa which seems to have cropped well. I've still not processed it yet though so I don't know the yields! I think I'll plant it again next year, its a handy crop as it doesn't take much care and fits easily into a rotation as it's not related to many of the standard families.
I grew a good amount of early potatoes, which we really enjoyed. I'm going to grow more potatoes next year and maybe create a bit more growing space for them...

Didn't bother with chickpeas though but grew soup peas instead. They taste great but look horrible so I need to find some that will dry green rather than grey! My wife eats with her eyes!

6. Be better at harvesting and preserving
I've been much better at cropping out beds rather than just leaving a few things in the ground that never get harvested. This has meant that I get more crops from each bed if I'm careful. There are still some crops out there that I should have got in though!
I've been dehydrating lots of things with my new dehydrator, this has meant that we can use summer gluts (squash) in the winter. I'd like to dehydrate more veg though as I seemed to concentrate on mainly fruit (mainly apples, lots and lot so of apples).

7. Be More Proactive at dealing with problems
I've been out there a lot more this year so I guess that's been the main thing helping me keep things in line. I certainly could be better at trapping rodents (although I've made lots of boxes for traps) and I need to be better at covering areas that aren't in use so weeds don't take control.

8. Grow more
I have never grown so much as I have this year! We have had so much food from our homestead it's unreal. We've eaten more veg than ever, with multiple crops from each bed, and having our own lambs and chickens from the land has been great as well.
The meat chickens in particular have been awesome and something I'm looking at doing again next year.

9. Seed Saving
I've had more plants in to save seed from this year. I still need to process some of them but I'm pleased with what I've got.
I joined my local seed saving/swap group and have been going to meetings, this has been a great source of knowledge as well as a good way to meet like minded people.
On top of this I have also joined the heritage seed library and have grown a few things for them as well.

10. Hard and Soft Fruit
My wife worked hard to be able to get at the soft fruit early in the season, battling the nettles, and only because of her did we manage to have so many raspberries. But I do think the area is beyond saving and needs to be covered over and start again somewhere without so many nettles!
We also managed to plant another 13 apple trees in the coppice so in the future that should help to stock our larder!

11. Improve the coppice area
I didn't increase the willow numbers but I did plant lots of apple trees.
We also made a log circle and enjoyed the area earlier in the year.

12. Building work
I'm certainly not where I want to be with this one!
Inside the extension is still not at all usable as I haven't knocked through yet. A couple of rooms are plastered and I've made and fitted the doors but there's still plenty to do. I'm hoping it all comes together next year when my little boy starts going to nursery for a couple of days a week.
Outside things are looking a bit better! The top patio is finished and is totally amazing, we had a few great BBQ's out there in the summer and the space worked really well. I still need to get moving with other areas but at least we have a nice area to eat outside and for the kids to ride their bikes.

13. Herbs and Spices
I grew mostly the same number of things as what I normally do, there was a few new ones, like Korean mint and summer savory for example. I really enjoy growing and using herbs so I'll be looking out for more interesting ones next year. I have been talking to some local restaurants and the chefs have tried some of the more unusual things I've grown. The black mint is one that they are interested in so I might put a bigger patch of that in next year!

14. Baking 
Well I've kept up with this one! Even had a proposal due to my Chelsea buns the one day! I bake so often now that it's become second nature, I don't have to look at many instructions or recipes but just know what I'm doing. If I'd could tell my younger self that he'd never believe me!

15. Animals
The sheep have been good this year and haven't destroyed my will to keep them, like they have in the past, they still don't make much money but they are great for the kids and I do enjoy it.
As I've mentioned above the meat chickens have been a great addition this year and having 20 laying birds in pasture pens has also been great. My new pens have really helped me keep my birds healthy and even when it was down to negative 12 degrees c the other night they were fine in their heras panel pens with just a tarp and one side filled in.

16. Declutter
Just nope.
I just think there's something wrong with me.

One thing that wasn't on the original list but should have been was learning and training. This is something that I've put a lot of effort into this year, I've attended talks, spent the day with a market gardener, visited another market garden and spent a day there, went to a days course at garden organic on unusual veg and read lots and lots on the subject. Some might even call me obsessed...
I have tried to put it into practice where I can and I have some plans for next year forming in my mind!

So there's my review of my goals that I set myself at the start of the year. I don't think I've done too bad but there are certainly areas to improve!

What do you think?

Did you achieve your goals for 2017?

What do you think should be on my list for 2018? I won't be offended!

Sunday 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

I'm writing this the night before.

There's a mince pie, a rather stumpy carrot and a glass of milk on the side and upstairs there's three children that are really looking forward to the morning! 

I thought they were going to be far more excited than they were, but they were as good as gold at bedtime, snuggled up for me to read "The night before Christmas" just as my father did for me. 

In the kitchen one of our larger chickens, which we're having instead of a turkey, is defrosting on the side.

I've just spent the last hour preparing all the veg from the garden: brussel sprouts (although these could be a new breed of miniature sprouts!), winter squash (cut up a quarter of one and it was still too much!), carrots (These are supposed to be for seed saving but I couldn't resist), beetroots and leeks. I've also peeled the potatoes that we buy from a local farm.

The sausage meat, sausages and bacon that we buy from Rick, the village butcher, are all ready and waiting to be cooked. My wife has also made a Christmas pudding earlier in the month which is always amazing! Dinner should be incredible! The children have even made crackers for us all as well and have been trying so hard not to tell us what is in each one!

I'm really looking forward to this day and I have so much love for my wife who puts so much effort into it.

It's going to be lovely on Christmas morning watching the children enjoy the magic of it all, it's lovely as they still don't ask for much, all the girls have asked for is some lego men and a shared alarm clock that plays music! We'll have to see if Father Christmas brings them that or some coal!

I hope each and everyone one of you has a very Merry Christmas and it's everything you want it to be spent with the ones you love.


Saturday 23 December 2017

Reading Pod or Nook

Sorry no posts for a week, as you can imagine it's been busy! 
I've had great fun over the last few days on my Facebook Page trying to get people to guess what I was making by showing them the following picture. 
I had about thirty people guessing until one lady came up with the right answer - a reading nook.
This is a commission I'm building for my daughters new school which they go into in the new year (it's really exciting for them and me!).
The idea was to have some standard book shelves then some little reading pods for them to curl up into. There's also going to be a tree but I've no idea how I'm going to build that yet! 
I'm building it out of MDF as it keep cost down (I'm on a very tight budget) but also takes a finish really well if there's no edges.
 It's not something I've ever built before so it took a bit of thinking about and a few trials using my eldest daughter to test for size!

 The pictures below show a "dry" assembly, with no glue. It'll be too heavy for me to move if I assemble it here unfortunately so it'll have to be put together at the school after Christmas.
  I'm really pleased with how it turned out and looks. There will be trim on all the corners and a fascia around the pentagon to hide cut edges of the MDF
Hopefully this will be the perfect size as well and nice and cosy when there's a few cushions in there! I've built two of these units and I'm really looking forward to getting them in, they're currently on flat packed on the floor of the extension. Some nice colours will really make them stand out as well.

I'm hopeful the kids will like them as well!

This certainly isn't a job I'm going to make much (or any really) money on but I love the idea of building something for the local school and my children will see them everyday and think "My dad built them!"

I've got some benches to build and a big tree yet so it could be interesting trying to come up with interesting ideas for those as well!

Saturday 16 December 2017

What Would You Do For Water?

Tewesbury, a town not too far away had a main water pipe burst yesterday. 
This has left 10,000 homes and businesses without water and thirteen school.
Picture from Severn Trent Water
Severn Trent have set up three distribution points hand have handed out tens of thousand of bottles of water.
Supermarkets have also been stripped clear of any bottled water as people start to panic buy.

This also happened a few months ago in Chelthenham where 7,000 were left without water.

In both cases the water board reacted quickly and sets up points for people to collect water. But it does make me wonder how much they have stored up for this sort of emergency and how long it would last for.

Water storage is certainly an area I need to work on.

Do you have emergency water stored?

Or your own supply?

What would you do if the distribution points ran dry in an emergency?

Friday 15 December 2017

Too Much Meat?

The other day I showed a friend a picture of one of our freezers and he accused me of eating too much meat. 
Now I admit that this is a fair amount of meat (and only one of our freezers). This one is full of chickens, some lamb and some mutton, all raised here and  butchered by my own fair hands(except the mutton which was done at the abattoir).

What this friend didn't think about was that this is our food stored for a large chunk of the year. We still eat a fair number of veggie meals, probably at least two times a week, maybe more in the summer. I still visit our local butcher, but now for bacon, sausages and faggots, as well as advice and a good chat, the rest is our own.

Our food isn't delivered every week from the supermarket, or picked up from the butcher. So yes it looks a lot, but it feeds a family of five and lasts us a long time (we also have friends over for dinner and BBQ's a bit as well). If everyone had six or nine months of their meat in front of them (vegetarians  excluded obliviously) it would look a lot as well I'm sure!

Wednesday 13 December 2017

What Equipment Do You Duplicate?

I'm building some doors for the extension this week. 
It's a fairly enjoyable job and good to make something nice for us for a change, I'll do a post on the doors once they're all made and hung. I'm just making a batch of six 4 panel 1950's style doors at the moment and maybe some more when I start work on the downstairs. 
Routers and Squares
But one of the reasons it enjoyable is that I have the right kit for the job, I've been doing this sort of thing for 15 years now and have a fair selection of tools. 

I also have some duplicates of some important things as well and this can come in real handy. 

Like in the picture above, two big routers set up with the bits I need to make a door. Otherwise I'd have to change bits and reset each one for each door! This way is much quicker and not so frustrating! 

This got me thinking. Now I know the rule of prepping "three is two, two is one, one is none". 

What do you have multiples of that make your life easier? for example I have three wheelbarrows here, one is never enough!

What do you have to keep a spare just so you could carry on with your day to day life with? 

What do you keep a spare of for emergencies?

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Milk Carton Storage Dispenser

So we're still happily trapped at home. I could get the truck out quite easily but feel little need to leave the homestead! 

Looking at our food supplies the only thing that we're going to be short of (besides potatoes - but that's my own stupid fault) is milk. 

The kids drink 26 pints of milk a week on average, and there's no way we could store a huge amount, not much more than a week or so worth, unless I dedicated a freezer to it! We had a few stored in the the freezer anyhow but we're getting down it now. Maybe we need a cow...

We also keep a fair bit of soya milk in the house as well. I can't drink milk (but can have cheese and yogurt) so the soya is mainly for me. I do cook with it and use it on our porridge in the morning so it's useful to have around. Looking at our stock though we're down to the last three cartons. This is mainly because they get shoved on the floor in the pantry and we're never sure how many we've got as it's always so full of stuff. 
Well I decided it was time to get them organised. 

I love my tin can storage door and we use it daily, it makes everything easy to find and to see how much we've got of everything, so I decided something similar was in order. 

Measuring the space I had I could see I could make something to hold ten cartons of milk and ten tins of tuna (that sized tin isn't on my storage door). Whatever you do though, don't cook with the tuna and the milk, that wouldn't be nice! 

Knocking this up took me about three quarter of an hour with some scrap ply from the doors I'm making. I just glued and pinned everything together, nothing fancy. Slots cut on the front let you see what you've got and to slow down the speed that you drop things in there.
You could easily make this with hand tools but it might take you a bit longer, I used a jig saw, circular saw and a compressor with nail gun. All the measurements are just to suite the size of the carton and tin can.

There's a little ramp at the bottom to catch the tuna tins, check out this post to see what I made last time. 
Setting out the spacing for the carton and the tuna tins

Cutting the top, having slots in it means you can see how much of everything you've got. 

The completed rack

The rack in place in the pantry - just need to fill it now! 
I'm quite pleased with this little project, it doesn't take long to get organised, even if it doesn't look that pretty.

That's ten litres of soya milk that can be seen, checked and stored easily, with the oldest being used first every time, same with the tuna. I use a couple of litres of soya a week, so that's roughly five weeks worth.

This would also work great for UHT milk, or anything in a carton.

If you've any other food storage ideas then please let me know, I might end up building it!

What do you think?

Have you got anything like this in your house to keep you organised? I'd love to see it if you have! Send me a picture!

2022 - Edit - This unit never worked very well. Just too much weight on the cartons I think. Not one I'd recommend copying. 

Monday 11 December 2017

Don't Be That Idiot

Once I saw the amount of snow yesterday I went and did my morning chores then had a quick walk around my neighbours to make sure everyone was okay. 

My one set of neighbours, Ken and Liz, were properly sorted. Ken is in his 70's and there's certainly no flies on him, when the weather was good on the Saturday he'd moved all the firewood he'd need up to the house and garage, ready for the snow. I also know they'd have enough food in stock to last them any length of time needed. 

On the other end of the scale I read on someones Facebook yesterday that they'd been in a shop and heard a woman complaining that the store had run out of bread, apparently she'd said to the cashier (not the other way round!) "You knew there was a storm coming, so why didn't you stock up?"
Picture from google somewhere...
Now I know I'm preaching to the choir a little bit here, but please lets not be idiots. It costs very little to keep a bit of food in the house. And I'm not talking enough to see out a nuclear winter, just enough to see you through a snowy week if you can't get to the shops.

It doesn't cost much and I'd say you could probably kit yourself out with some emergency rations for a few days for about £20.

I keep long life bread here, it's called flour. 
We keep emergency cake, it's called flour, eggs and sugar.
A months worth of breakfast comes in the form a of big bag of oats.

None of this costs very much! Nor does it take up much storage space. A little camping stove would give you the ability to cook off grid....

I think you can see where I'm going with this! 

People are too quick to play the victim. People need to take control and do something for themselves. 

What I'll be doing after this snow storm is evaluating what we could have done with and making sure we have it for next time. 

Then I'll be thinking how would we have done without power and trying to make things more comfortable if that was the case as well. We can heat the house without power (or most of the house) and cook on top of the stove, but what else would have helped?

Are you stocked up for a snow storm?

Who do you know who plays the idiot but won't take any notice when you try to warn them?

Sunday 10 December 2017

Snow Day!

None of the kids have had a good amount of snow that they can remember! 
Once I'd check and fed the animals we all had a bit of time outside to have a play, before they all got cold and wet! 
Everything is drying by the fire now! 

Chickens seem fine in their coop less pens! 

Untouched fields

Give the lambs some hay

Ready to fire snowballs at me!

Snow man

10 seconds later - the boy decided he didn't want him standing!

Friday 8 December 2017

Chicken Processing Mk3

We managed to get the last of this years meat birds processed on Sunday afternoon. 

We'd gone on a disastrous shopping trip to a local city to try to choose some tiles for the bathroom. We should have known better than to take the three kids and think we could make any decisions! We left about two hours later, none the wiser but all of use with slightly shorter tempers! We called and had lunch at my brothers which was really good fun, then dragging the kids away, hurried home. 

I knew I had six chickens to butcher before it got dark! 
I got outside around three, the sun sets around four O'clock so I knew I'd have to work quite fast! 
The girls wanted to assist again so we got everything ready. Bowls of warm water and clothes to wipe down, knife and sharpening steel, chopping/rest boards, two buckets (feathers and guts) and a plastic bag to pluck them on so I wouldn't get soaked. Hot water on the BBQ as well so I could wet pluck them again.
The girls got involved straight away again, watching me work, then helping to pluck feathers. I let them spend time picking off the pin feathers once I'd finished the bulk of the main feathers. They loved helping and asking about a thousand questions and they both made me laugh lots - they can be so matter of fact at that age! 
My eldest stayed out with me the whole way through, my younger daughter couldn't quite manage it, but it was getting cold and dark. It was lovely just to have the company and to have her talking to me about anything she wanted. By the time I had plucked all six, it was just after four o'clock, gutting them didn't take long but light was failing. I then bagged them up and left them to rest in the shed.
I was speaking to my butcher the other day and I was saying how when I jointed some of the last lot up the skin didn't stay on that well. He told me that I hadn't let them set long enough and to leave them somewhere for a few days first.

So I'm taking his advice and before I do anything with these chickens I'm going to let them sit and settle first. I think I'll probably joint up four of these and leave two birds whole. It's far easier for me to grab a meal sized portion and cook it up that night rather than always having to rely on a roast and using the left overs (which we do as well!).

How do you store your chickens in the freezer - jointed up or whole for a roast?

Also I now have a big bag of chicken livers in the freezer and I'm wondering what to do with them - does anyone that read this blog make their own pate and do you have a good recipe? I'm totally in love with pate but have never made any myself before.

Wednesday 6 December 2017

Cooking Or Dipping Oil?

This is a collaborative post.

My cooking habits have changed over the years. I used to use olive oil for everything, I'd cook with it and use it as a dipping oil, mixed with balsamic vinegar.

But I seem to have really gone off it lately. I don't know if it's because I'm not buying expensive olive oil, but to me it tastes slightly bitter sometimes. Maybe I need to shop around and find some that suits my taste better.

Instead I've been buying cold pressed Rapeseed oil (canola oil if you're in the states) and seem to prefer it. I used to just use it as a dipping oil but I've been cooking with it more lately as well.
For one the colour is amazing with the cold pressed stuff. It makes my focaccia really stand out, drizzled on top before it goes in the oven it goes completely golden. It's my standard thing to cook if anyone comes round for lunch and normally gets a wow! But really it's because I'm lazier than that, and it's just far easier than making sandwiches for a group. 

It also seems to taste far milder when used as a dipping oil with the same bread. My younger daughter goes mad for dipping anything, so it normally works as a great way to make sure she eats a good lunch. 

Dad also farms a fair bit of rapeseed each year so I feel that by buying British it does support that industry a little bit. 

What oil do you use on top of you bread when you cook (if any)?

Do you use an oil as a dipping oil? What do you use (I'm always keen to try different ones!)?

Monday 4 December 2017

The Ultimate Flapjack Recipe

I've gone a bit oats mad at the moment.
After my microwave porridge post the other day, Spade and Dagger mentioned how they'd been spoilt by using Pim Hill Farm organic oats, and how they tasted way better than what you can normally buy.  
I had a conversation with the lovely people at Pim Hill Farm about trying some of their products. Looking at their website I already loved their ethos and how they grew their product, we don't exclusively buy organic, but we do try to when we can. 
I was stupidly excited when the box turned up, not many people get that excited about oats I can tell you!
Well the kids did, but the box didn't last long! 
First thing to try was the porridge oats. I was almost a little worried, would they be any better?
Well happily I can report that they they take porridge to another level! Much smoother, creamier and somehow they taste more "oaty".

Trouble is I think it might have spoilt the children and no other oats will compare now, gone are the days of budget oats! They sell big 5kg bags for £15.75 on their site which still works out at only 15p a portion (adult). I love buying big bags in bulk anyway, so it suits me!

I was a little unsure what to do with the jumbo oats, then I thought flapjack.
But then I looked in the cupboard and saw that we'd got no golden syrup left, I guess with how much porridge we've been eating lately I shouldn't have been surprised!
Looking to the pantry I saw some condensed milk on the shelf. I remembered that mum used to make awesome flapjack using it. I grabbed the family cookbook and had a look through, she used to make huge batches of this when she had a tea room on the farm.

The Ultimate Flapjack Recipe

Now I know Ultimate is a bold claim but this stuff is simply amazing. 
I even had to ask mum if she minded me giving away this recipe! Mum and friend had a competition to see who could come up with the best recipe, mum lost but we gained her friends recipe so we didn't care! 

The recipe is dead simple:

12oz of jumbo oats
8oz of butter
4oz of soft brown sugar
4 tlbsp condensed milk
4 oz of raisins or chopped dried apricots
Packed down ready to go in the oven
Heat the oven to 160 degrees C, mix the sugar, oats and raisins together. Then add in melted butter and condensed milk and mix. Put in a tray lined with parchment paper then bake for 25 - 30 minutes until done.

For an amazing variation put one layer of flapjack in the tray, cover with cherry pie filling then add another layer of flapjack on top!

It was so good I had to make it twice - once I'd made one batch I saw half a tin of condensed milk left in the fridge looking all lonely, so I made as second batch the very next day. By the weekend ti was all gone! 

What's your favorite flapjack recipe?

*Pim Hill farm did give me the oats to create this post, but all the views and opinions are my own. 
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