Sunday, 30 April 2017

That's Not A BBQ!!

When I barbecue I'm somewhat of a purist, I think it should be over hot charcoal (locally sourced of course), so the meat takes on the taste of the smoke. So the thought of buying a gas BBQ has never entered my mind. 
But this was an offer too good to turn down. 
A friend's parents had a gas BBQ that they hadn't used in a few years so they've lent it to us for the summer. 
Like I said I've never used a gas one so I'm a little dubious, but I am looking forward to being able to quickly cook outside without having to plan to light the BBQ half an hour or so before I need it, I'm thinking it'll give me a quick an easy outdoor cooking area for this year and keep me out of the kitchen in the (hopefully) hot summer. It also has a gas hob which I think would be good for stir fries with veggies straight out of the garden. 

What's your opinion on gas BBQ's? 

Do you own one and use it very much? 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

7 Tips For Lambing a Small Flock Outdoors

Things have gone well with the lambing this year so I thought I'd do a video show what I've done to try to organise myself and get things to run a little smoother. 
Let me know what you think!

Is there anything else you'd like me to do a video on?

Friday, 28 April 2017

Life And Death On The Homestead

If you've got more than a few animals then having some die is an enviable part of keeping them. 

I know I've posted before about involving the children in every aspect of what I do here and yesterday was no exception. 
The day before we'd had a triple born, the one wasn't going to be a very good lamb, it couldn't stand and faded pretty fast. I could have messed about with it and tried bottle feeding, but you get a feel for when these things will work or not. By the morning it was dead. 

When I picked my eldest up from school I mentioned this and both girls asked questions about what had happened. Then later when they came to help me feed the ewes they asked to see the dead lamb. I got it out from where I'd put it and laid it on the ground. They both studied it very hard for a few minutes before going off and playing in the trailer.

When we came back in they both told their mum, very matter of fact, that the lamb had died because the mother sheep had had three lambs and didn't have enough milk to feed all three. 

I was really pleased with how they dealt with the subject and how they reacted around the dead body of the lamb. I think children really pick up on the reactions of the people around them, around the animals I'm generally very calm, quiet and move softly (unless I'm trying to catch them) and the girls are the same, they make me really proud around the animals. 

They also know they're not people, far too many people anthropomorphise animals, the children can see that they don't have human emotions. A sheep loosing a lamb will forget about it very quickly, sometimes in a few hours, a sheep in a lot of pain lambing will evoke no emotion from a sheep sat next to it. 

They also know why we keep them and I tell them when we eat one that we've bred here, they seem to like to know where their food has come from even at their young age!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

John Seymour On Vegetarianism

"The vegetarians point out it is cruel to kill animals. The non-vegetarians point out that some factor has got to control the population-increase rate of every species: either predators (such as non-vegetarians), disease, or famine and of these predators are possibly the most humane."

"Vegetarianism seems to be almost wholly an urban, or big city, phenomenon, and is possibly due to people having been cut off from animals for so long that they tend to anthropomorphism. The humane non-vegetarian says (and I am one) that animals should be kept in the conditions most nearly approaching those for which they were evolved as possible, treated as humanely and subjected to no cruelties and indignities and, when their times comes, killed instantly and with no long journeys to far-away markets or abattoirs. This is perfectly possible on the self-supporting holding, and the animal need have no inkling that anything is going to happen to it."

John Seymour - The Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency 1976

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Dehydrating Rhubarb

Okay with my new dehydrator I've been looking for things to dry! 
I always have an abundance of rhubarb at this time of year (although I've managed to sell quiet a bit this year) and my wife isn't hugely keen on it. 
I decided to dry some and see if it's any good in my overnight oats that I've been eating. It's pointless to dry it if there's no use for it at the end. 
We picked a huge amount and set to cutting it up fairly evenly to put on the nine trays (I think I used eight as I cut the top layer a bit thick), my two assistants laid them out on the tray for me, it's funny watching them stealing bits of rhubarb and then having to spit them out - they took ages to learn that it's quite tart! 
I then set it to dry, I had no idea how long it would take so set the timer for 16 hours on the fruit temperature. I think in the end it was dry at around 13 hours. I don't mind if these go really hard as they're to be rehydrated before eating, not to be used as snacks like some dried fruit. 

It's comical how small this stuff gets after it's done - rhubarb is a lot of water! 


My eldest and me tried some in our oats yesterday morning (added in the night before) they had the texture of a currant as they weren't fully hydrated but with a sharp flavour, a really good and healthy addition to our breakfast with very little cost involved.

Have you ever dehydrated rhubarb? 

What use did you find for it?

Monday, 24 April 2017

Wow - What A Morning!

Today was the first day back at school after the Easter holidays. That means that my wife is back at work and I'm back looking after the children, whilst I've still got some ewes to lamb. 
So Sunday night I went out to check the sheep that weer still to lamb just before bed time. There was a ewe struggling to lamb so I managed, after much running around, to catch her and get her into a pen I'd made in the field. 

This ewe was not easy to lamb, it was a single and the size of a small Labrador, I really struggle to get him out but managed in the end (the difficulty lies in pulling the lamb out and hold the ewe down on your own). I then moved her off to the shed to a bonding pen and went to bed around 11.30.

My younger daughter then woke me up at 2.30 and I decided that whilst I was awake I might as well go and check them (I had considered not checking them that night as I have so few left to lamb). When I went out there one ewe had had a triple (no one want triples) and the lambs had wondered away from her as she was going a little crazy not being able to find them. I gathered them up and put them in the shed as well, then back to bed.

I had my alarm set for six but with three young children there is little need for an alarm in our house! I got up quickly (for me), I wanted to check on the lambs born the night before and do my other jobs. 

When I went to check on the expectant ewes there was one lambing - damn I thought (or maybe something stronger). I could do without that during the school run. I managed to pen her up (again with much running around) and I had a "bit of an inspection" unfortunately she wasn't far enough on with her lambing and her cervix hadn't opened up fully. So I then sorted out the sheep in the shed, did the green houses, uncovered certain garden crops, fed the chickens and then went inside to see my wife off and sort the kids out, make their lunch boxes, get forest school kit ready etc, give them breakfast, clean teeth and get them dress.

I managed all that done by eight o'clock (we normally leave by 8.30 to get there with plenty of time to spare) so I got the kids to get their wellies on and marched them all down the field. 

The girls were told to look after the boy and make sure he didn't wonder off whilst I set about lambing this ewe. 

The kids were utterly transfixed as I put my hand inside her and after much effort managed to pull out two live lambs in front of their very eyes, my younger daughter told me there and then that she wanted to be a farmer (and a carpenter)!

Then with time against me I managed to get the sheep and lambs up to the shed (as it was raining), round up the children, get them in the car, change out of my overalls (and then clothes when I realised it had soaked through) and drive them to school. The road was then blocked so we had to turn round and go a longer way to school. 

We got there just as the gate was closing, but to be honest in my mind what they saw and experienced in that hour this morning would be far better than what they'd see or do at school, so if they were late I wouldn't have been very bothered! 

With the eldest dropped at school, the middle one then got dropped off at preschool and the youngest and me then went to the community church in the village where I volunteer at a playgroup to get set up for the mornings session! 

In all it was quiet a full on morning! 

It's funny I've always said I want to give my children a similar childhood to my own and I think I was doing just that this morning! 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Busy Two Weeks

The last two weeks have been pretty full on. 
The early part of last week I took two lambs and a sheep to the abattoir, I worked a few days for customers, we pushed really hard with the patio (post and pictures to follow), the veg garden is being well looked after and the lambs have been coming thick and fast.
I'm having a much better time of it than last year, I'm not sure what that's down to. The weather has been amazing, the sheep seem in better condition, I'm better prepared & organised and I seem to be having a fair bit of luck on my side at the moment. 

That doesn't mean it's been plain sailing. I'm having to lamb a fair few ewes, yesterday morning I even had to get my bricklayer to hold the ewe whilst I lambed here, not what he was expecting to do when he turned up! Some of the lambs are quite big that I'm having to lamb, it's an issue with feeding as I don't know if they're carrying a single or twins so the sheep have the same amount of food. 
Not sure any sheep likes to see these two items come out...




Unfortunately the Easter holidays are over now so I'll be back to full time childcare from tomorrow and I've still got nine sheep left to lamb. This could mean some very tired school runs and a grumpy daddy, but hopefully it shouldn't be too bad. 
I'm currently assessing the flock before I go to bed at 11 and deciding when to get up based on what I see. Normally I get up and walk round them around 3 o'clock in the morning but if I see any signs of lambing then it could be two walk rounds, an earlier one and a later one (2 and 4) and dealing with anything that happens. If they lamb in the night I tend to take them up to that little shed in the one rented field and put them in a bonding pen for the night (if I've got the space) before letting them out in the morning. 
Wish me luck with the nine that are left! 

Friday, 21 April 2017

Pea Supports

Call me lazy but I lately I hate growing climbing plants. It's the extra effort of putting up the supports, tying them in and making sure they stay up. 
Trouble is there's lots of plants I want to grow that are not dwarf varieties. These two peas as are a good example, Bijou mange tout and a Latvian soup pea, both grow big and need good supports (seed bought form The Real Seed Catalogue) so a few sprigs of hazel weren't really going to cut it! 
I had a look a bout the place and found some lengths of concrete reinforcing bar about 8ft (2.4m) long. That was going to take some bending from the weight of a few peas! I had six lengths, perfect for two beds. 
Stood on one of my saw horses I knocked them in with a sledge hammer. I kept going until they were stood six feet out of the ground. 
Then with the aid of two young assistants I tied string every six inches up the bars (they held the string for me), I'm hoping this will prove strong enough for them, I've not grown climbing peas before, normally I stick to dwarf ones, so I've no idea how it will hold up.

What do you use for pea supports? 

How big do your climbing varieties get?

Do you think my supports will be strong enough or should I upgrade the string?

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Vlog Episode 4 - Homestead Tour

It's been a while since I did a video and with so much going on at the moment I thought it might be good to walk you all around some of the homestead. 
This video is just filmed as it is, very little editing except where I ran out of memory as I was looking at my beetroots! 
Let me know what you think and what you'd like to see in the next one and I'll try to include it. 
Or let me know if you'd like a video on anything in particular.




Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Major Tractor Mistake

Well two actually!
The other day I jumped off the tractor and my rather jumpy handbrake sprang off as I hit the ground. Luckily I manged to jump back on before it picked up too much speed and stop it. Made my heart beat a bit faster though I can tell you! 
The second mistake is going to cost a bit more. I opened the window on the tractor to throw my dad a knife and then without thinking picked up the forks on the back.
  I realised my mistake a second too late and tried to drop the hydraulics but they're not very responsive, there was a loud POP and glass went everywhere. 
To say I was a bit miffed off is an understatement. Dad just said it could have been him and it was an easy mistake to make, I said I wish it was him that did it! Never mind, just tricky to stop the chickens from roosting in there at night until I get it fixed! 

Also thought I'd just put this picture in at the end of dad coming back from casting his eye over my sheep with the girls all holding hands. Made me smile.

Anyone else broke a window in a silly way? 

Come on tell me your stories and make me feel better! 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Lambing problems

I don't dare jinx it by saying things are going okay, but at the moment they don't seem too bad...
The lambs are coming steadily and seem healthy and happy, I've got one inside at the moment who is breathing funny but I've given some medicine and just waiting on that one. 

I have had a couple of tricky deliveries though. 
Both last night. 
One was breach and was coming out the wrong way. I spotted her just as the light was fading, one little hoof sticking out of her. I managed to trick her into a pen with some food before wrestling her to the ground, then I had to try to find the other leg inside her and pull the lamb out once I'd gotten both legs. Because the lamb is the worn way round once you start pull you need to be quick as it'll drown in there once the cord is broken. 
I've never had such a hard one to pull out before, he was huge. I had to put my foot on the ewe to get him out, poor thing. But once he was out I gave him a good rub and he seems fine. 


The second one was from some night time checks last night. I went out at 2am and could see a ewe had started lambing but looked unsettled. I couldn't get near her (a major disadvantage of lambing outside) so I decided to come back in two hours time and see if she'd had the lamb on her own. 

When I came out at 4 in the morning I was gutted to see her running about with just a head sticking out of her, looking all swollen. I thought it's dead for sure but I still need to get it out of her. 

Catching her was another story. I ran round for a bit but decided to get the quad bike out, I've no idea what the neighbours thought to me trying to round the sheep up at half four in the morning, I'm surprised the police didn't turn up in all honesty and do me for rustling!

After about fifteen minutes of her running round and the lambs head making a horrible noise as it slapped her legs as she ran I managed to catch her and pin her to the ground. The the difficult job of lambing her without letting her go! I managed to find a leg a little way back and pulled that and the head, two legs would have been better but the head had swollen and I thought there was no chance of getting that back inside her. Again it took some pulling out but when it came out I was really pleased to see it was still alive.


The ewe tried to bolt at the this point but I pinned her down and checked for any more lambs inside her. I pulled out the twin as well and left her to clean up the lambs as I put the quad bike away. 

By this time I was too fired up to go straight to bed so I thought I'd go and check on them and spray their bellies, it's a good job I did as the one lamb had got up, stumbled ten feet and fell down into the brook, holding it's head just above the water! I rushed in and got it out and then took them up into one of my bonding pens in the small shed I borrow for this month. Rubbed down with hay and making sure they had some milk I then went back to the house. 

It was 5.45 and I wasn't sure if it was worth going back to bed or not! 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Started Lambing

And so it begins! 
I was almost starting to doubt myself as lambing was taking so long to arrive! 
Yesterday I had two doubles, both sets of lambs were healthy and strong and had full bellies when I found them, so I was happy. 

The kids were pleased to see them as well! 

Second pair found on my walk round the sheep at 12 last night.
If it continues like this I'll be a happy man! 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Brioche Burger Bun Recipe

Okay so I thought it was about time I posted the recipe I used the other day when I made the brioche burger buns with my daughter, it's certainly BBQ weather at the moment and a homemade burger with some homemade buns goes down pretty well in the sunshine! 

This makes 48 buns so adjust for how many you want!

Thanks to Carl for this recipe.

It's made in two stages:

Stage one - Flying sponge

Water - 750g
Yeast - 38g
Flour - 500g

Mix this first bit up about an hour before you want to get started, this gets the yeast working. Leave it covered somewhere warm.


Stage two - Main Dough

Flour - 2125g
Salt - 50g
Sugar - 338g
Milk - 375g
Egg - 250g
Water - 125g

Stage Three -

Butter - 375g (diced up)

Add all the dry ingredients and mix together in a large bowl (very large bowl if you're doing the whole recipe above), then add in the flying sponge and the other wet ingredients and mix until it starts to pull together but bit form a dough.

At this stage add in the butter  then kneed until a clear dough is formed (it can take some work if you're doing the whole lot!)
.


Then leave it to rest for 45 minutes.

After the rest chop the dough into 90g (ish) bits and roll into round balls. Lay them out on a baking tray leaving a good space between them. 

weigh out the dough into 90g bits before rolling
If you're planning on freezing some dough then this is the point where I popped them into the freezer on a tray, then once frozen I put them into freezer bags and sealed for another day.
Into the freezer
The use an egg wash to cover the dough and sprinkle sesame seeds on top, covert the dough (but not so it's touching it) and leave to double in size (about an hour or so).
Ready for the next prooving then into the oven!
Then pop into a pre-heated oven at 220 degrees C for 12 - 15 minutes until cooked through - be careful though as I find an egg glaze catches easily. Cool on a wire rack.
Finished buns! Worth the effort! 
Then shove in your favourite beef burger dripping with cheese and bacon, giant grilled mushroom stuffed with feta cheese, fried halloumi with courgette, minted lamb burger or anything else that you fancy, make sure it's big enough that you struggle to get your jaws around it and fill your face when no one is watching!
Fill it up as much as you can! 
  Let me know what you think if you try it! 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Patio Progress - Footings Finished & Retaining Wall

Another busy weekend here. 
I had a phone call from my bricklaying friend, Dill, last week and he said he could come over and work if I had the footings ready. 
I mentioned this to dad and he sprang into action. He came over Friday night and we got them dug out, it didn't take too long and surprisingly we weren't doing it in the dark! 
Digging more footings along side the steps I built last year. 

Footings for the curved bit
 Then on Sunday my dad and my brother came over to give me a hand, we started mixing concrete and got all the footings poured by about two o'clock, I was pleased as it meant I had time to get ready for my bricklayer!
Pad for more under patio storage

Dave, my brother, digging another two foot as we had some concrete left! 

Footings done! 
 I then spent ages moving everything around, getting blocks in the right place, moving the mixer, getting sand out for him. 
Dill is a quick worker and he managed to get most of the retaining wall built. The new section includes two under patio storage cupboards and a curved section to try to soften the look of the whole thing! 
Under patio cupboards

Curved wall

Cupboards from above - I now need to create some shuttering to pour the slabs on top

The view at the back of the house, I think the patio goes nicely with it all. 
There's still loads to do, I need to shutter and pour the concrete for the patio storage, then the hardcore needs back filling against the retaining wall, stone added to the top and wackered down, loads of slabbing, then dwarf walls built with planters in them, cupboard doors to make, etc...

But in spite of that long list it really does feel like we're making serious progress and at least half of the patio should be finished by the end of next week, giving us somewhere outside to eat without worrying that our little boy is going to run off the edge learning to fly! 

What do you think?

Do you think the storage areas are a good idea or too much work for what I gain? 

Is the patio going to be too big (I think it'll be great for parties!)?

Friday, 7 April 2017

Season Extention

There's quite a bit of season extension going on in my garden at the moment! 
I'm trying everything to see if I can get some earlier crops, I've got hoops with net (for birds really), hoops with plastic, hoops with fleece and black plastic to warm the soil, I've been transplanting crops that I started in modules in the greenhouse as well to give me the best possible start outside. 

What do you do to get an earlier crop?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Purple Sprouting

There's not huge amounts to choose from at this time of year in the garden. 
I still have a few leeks left, lots of chard, nettles (hey their edible, they count!) and my love that is - purple sprouting.
Lets be honest, this is not an easy vegetable to grow. I've described it before as the "footballers wife" of the vegatble world.
It's high maintenance, a heavy feeder, in the plot a long time, every insect wants to eat it and every pigeon from miles around can see it and wants to land on it all winter. 
And every year I think it's not worth the effort, until I eat some. Truth be told, I just love the stuff, my one daughter even eats it raw straight out the garden, I'll often find her snacking off the plant! And there is so little else at the moment that I'd be really lost without it. 

So will I be growing it next year? 
Yep! 
And will it cause me so many problems that I think it's not worth it? 
You can bet on it! 
But come April next year I'm sure I'll feel the same as I do now! 

Who else loves purple sprouting? 

What veg do you grow that's loads of trouble and only worth it when you get to eat it?

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Excalibur Dehydrator

Well I've finally done it. I've upgraded our little dehydrating unit we bought from Poland when we were driving a camper van around Europe some 11 years ago. 
I've been on about buying one for over five years and followed countless eBay searches. My wife just told me to get one in the end and stop talking about it. 
So I got an all singing and dancing model - in Pink.

I've gone for the stainless model with a timer and bizarrely it was cheaper in pink than the black plastic model, so that's what I went for. In fact the colour has grown on me and I think it's kind of stylish! I still went for the plastic trays though as I'd read that people were struggling with the stainless ones with food sticking to them. 

So I expect to be dehydrating lots of food in the coming months, hopefully lots of berries to store to have on my overnight oats, amongst other things. 

What do you think? Was it a good investment?

What would you be dehydrating at the moment?

Monday, 3 April 2017

Guess What's Back...

A beautiful spring day to have the sheep back on the homestead. 
Dad brought them over yesterday with my brother.

They're bagging up and could start lambing any day now! 

Could be a tough few weeks ahead! 

Rest is for the weak anyway!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Row Cover Cloches

I've posted before about my chicken run row covers, my modular sized beds (10ft by 30") mean that I can make something for one bed and it will fit all of them.
The chickens have left the veg garden for the next few seasons and the chicken run turns into a row cover.
Full bed cloche 
I ordered some proper cloche cover off the internet and although it wasn't as cheap as builders plastic it should last a few years. Cutting it up to fit the cloches wasn't easy as it was pretty windy when I chose to do it. My three year old held the tape measure for me and we managed to cut them to size, it was amazing really, as without her help I wouldn't have been able to do it! 
Currently all the covers are held on with spring clamps (like the type that market stall owners use), this means if I want to ventilate then I can lift the plastic up and hold it in place with a clamp. 

I've got four cloches like this made up so I'm hoping it will extend my growing season for earlier and later crops as well as helping some that enjoy a little extra heat in the summer (tomatoes and peppers).
The one above has my early carrots (Paris Market) under it and I'll put one over my early potatoes, one over my beets and one over some salad.
I'm really looking forward to using these this year and seeing how they work out. 

Anyone else make their own crop protection to extend the season?
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