Friday 29 September 2017

Meat Chicks At Four Weeks

The meat chicks have left the brooder (the heat has been off for a few days now) and they're in a their pasture pen.
The boy giving up his play pen...
The children helped me set the pen up and open and shut the gates as I moved the birds one by one. 
I have 19 left out of the 20 as one died in the first few days of having them. I've also got one that is much smaller than the others and not as active so I wouldn't sell it life insurance just yet.
The chicks took to it straight away, they were eating the grass and just moving around within minutes. 
This is the third pen of this type that I've built and I really like using them and I love the idea (and practice of) moving chickens onto fresh grass everyday. No need to muck out, manure spread evenly on the field to improve my pasture and the birds get fresh grass and bugs everyday reducing the need for worming.
They are helping really...
I spread some straw at the back of the pen for the first few nights and I have no intention of moving it for a few days, just to let them settle in and get used to a colder environment. 
When I went out to check tonight they'd all huddled together but outside! I moved them all to the straw area and they soon settled down again, using each other for warmth to start with. I've added a couple of perches and during the day there are already a few that like to hang out there. 

The growth of these birds has been eye opening! They've gained weight like mad, but there is a real difference between them all some are much bigger than others. 

Who else has used pasture pens (chicken tractors) to help fatten meat birds? 

Any tips?

Thursday 28 September 2017

Vacuum Packer

I was gutted tonight.
I got two beautiful steaks out the freezer, from a whole cow I home butchered last year (the cow wasn't from my land - it's a long story I might tell you about one day - but lets just say I ended up with a lot of beef!).
I let them defrost and thought about the homemade wedges, fresh sweetcorn and fried onions I was going to cook with it. 
Thumb not included...
Trouble was after I popped the oven on and started to prepare everything else I could smell something not quite right. It wasn't strong, just a little whiff when you held your nose to it.
Damn it.
Freezer burn on my steaks.
I wasn't willing to risk it, time to cook something else. 
My wife got in from work and excitedly asked about the beautiful steaks on the counter, only to be told she was having a veggie curry instead! 

Now the meat has been in there 18 months and we're getting very near to the end of it, but it's a shame that some has been wasted like this. I hate food waste and I don't want to make these mistakes again. 

I frequently butcher animals for our own consumption and have three freezers with meat and veggies in to make sure we are eating as much of our own produce as possible. I tend to separate the meat into different freezers so I know what to use and what each is (at the moment one has mutton and one has lamb, etc).

With 19 chickens to process soon , they're going onto pasture tomorrow hopefully,  I want to package them in the best way possible so there won't be anything wasted due to storage. and I'm thinking of something better than just a freezer bag like I've been using. 

I was looking at vacuum packers and thought that this might be great way to improve my long term storage, I could use it for packing my chickens before they go in the freezer and for storing my dehydrated fruit and veg. I've also been told it's great for just keeping things in the fridge fresher for longer, then there's the possibility of Souve cooking or marinading meat overnight. 

So does anyone out there use a vacuum packer before they freeze meat?

What one would you recommend? And do you use it for anything else?

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Comfort Food

It's darker in the evenings, 
it's chilly in the morning,  
nights are unfortunately drawing in. 

But there is one good thing - it's time for some proper comfort food! 
The last few weeks I've been cooking up some proper autumnal winter dishes, from beef hot pots cooked in the oven with lovely thick gravy to a sausage and tomato casserole flavoured with rosemary, bay and balsamic. 

Some of my absolute favourite  food to eat!

So I thought I'd ask you all for your Favourite comfort food and if it's little unusual then a link to the recipe so I could try it - I still find deciding what to cook each night the hardest bit of cooking for my family! 

What's best to warm you up on an Autumn evening? 

Some good old fashioned British winter stodge or something more exotic?

Monday 25 September 2017

Commando Wee

Some find any topic of toilet conversation embarrassing. 

I don't.

The other day a friend asked me what age it's unacceptable for a child to do a sneaky wee as her's had to do it round the side of Lidl when she was caught short. 
The picture above is when me and the girls were all desperate on the way back from holiday earlier in the year, up a side road and no harm is done. 

I call them commando wee's.

But people can get funny about it. I'll be honest working in the industry I have worked in (construction) and being brought up on a farm, weeing outside is no big deal. 

In fact living here I normally go outside for a wee than go upstairs to the toilet, some people find that weird, I think it's more weird to use a few litres of water to wash away my urine that's full of great nitrogen for plants, trees and compost as well as human sent that will deter predators from my chickens. 

What do you think?

Is there an acceptable age to stop weeing outside? Or are you like me and see no harm in it?

Friday 22 September 2017

Children Helping Or Working

I had a playdate yesterday, where a friend came over for some cake and a chat (don't worry she brought her child as well). 
Rounding them up with granddad
We talked about lots of things but one I thought was interesting was when she asked me how I felt about children helping or working. 
Now I'm not talking about sewing Nike trainers in a sweat shop here, more helping around the house and in my case helping out on the farm and garden as well. 
Helping sort the sheep
Getting moody
I've never really questioned whether this is right or wrong, for me the children "help" and that's just how it is. Sometimes they want to, other times they don't, but they still have to pitch in, even the boy at 20 months. 

In fact yesterday was a prime example of this, as my dad had come over to help me wean the lambs and sort out a few cull ewes. I had the children all day so they had to be out there helping us, to start with they were quite happy as we rounded them up, but as we got near our second hour they were both getting bored, a little wet from the rain and obviously wanted to go inside. 

They didn't though - as I had to stay until the job was done, they found ways to amuse themselves, picking blackberries and playing on the bike, but they'd definitely had enough!

I said to dad that "I keep sheep differently to most, I normally have three kids in tow." 

He just said "Well that's how I did it as well".

We emulate our parents without even realise it sometimes. I remember so many hours of things like this, learning through osmosis. 
Done with the job for today! He just wants to go in!
The day before they put their own toys away in the sitting room while I hoovered, although I had to do much nagging to get them to do this. And yesterday they helped me bake a cake and some bread for lunch. Things like being able to send my eldest off to get herbs and veg from the garden for tea is really helpful as well. 

But don't get me wrong, them helping doesn't mean that my jobs get done any faster, in fact normally quiet the opposite! But it should make things easier when they're older and they're building skills and hopefully a work ethic which will last them a lifetime. 

But I'm glad that my children already help out, and they seem to enjoy it. The look of pride on my daughters' faces when I put them to bed and say "Thank you for helping today," says it all as they beam back at me and say "You're welcome". 

I don't want to spoil them by making their lives too easy! 

What do you think? 

Should I be making my children help me or just letting them play?

Thursday 21 September 2017

Starting To Gather Squash In

I've started to gather in some of the mature squash so I'm not caught out if there's an early frost. 
One I was particularity pleased with was my Oregon Homestead squash. These seven fruits are off just two plants! They were planted in the top of last years compost and they seem to have done really well!

Can't wait to try them! 
They're monsters! 
All my wife said was "how are we going to get  into those?"
Axe at a guess - I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Reverend W Wilks Cooking Apple

Another great cooking apple I picked last week is the Reverend W Wilks.

I think it's possible to fall in love with these old apple varieties for their name before you've even tasted them! 

This is early to mid season apple - pick the beginning of September. 

It makes a large cooking apple with a lovely delicate aromatic flavour and cooks to a froth.

The tree is spur bearing (so ideal for cordons or espaliers) and stays fairly compact so great for a small garden, I have this tree growing down my row of cordons and it normally produces a few perfect large apples for me each year. It's in pollination group 2 if you are planning on having a few trees. 

Who else has tried this one? 

What did you think?

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Balloon Berry

 I'm always trying to find new and exciting things to grow. 

Over the years I've discovered some that we really like growing and eating. We grow Cucamelons every year now, along with Peruvian Black Mint, Quillquina, Electric Daisies, wine berries and more.
New fruit, I think, is something to get excited about. Maybe it's just my sweet tooth but I love to try out anything like that. I remember going to Asia for the first time and being blown away by the choice of tropical fruit, but I love our temperate fruit even more. 

When I stumbled upon a fruit I hadn't heard of, a balloon berry, I just had to buy some and plant them. Latin name Rubus illecebrosus if you want to goggle it. 

When they came they were far smaller than advertised and smashed to pieces, I got some money back and set about trying to keep them alive. 18 months later I've had my first fruits from them.

They're bigger than a raspberry, growing on a tall strawberry like plant. They look beautiful, like three raspberries fused together, but all the little bubbles are somehow finer.

And how do they taste I hear you ask?

INSIPID I think would be the best word to describe it. 
They tasted of very little, even the long wait and anticipation couldn't improve the taste. Don't get me wrong, they didn't taste bad, they just didn't taste of anything really, just sweetness and a little sour. 

I'll keep these two plants growing as a bit of an oddity in my garden, who knows when they crop heavy they might make a great preserve. But if I was short on space I'd rip them out and plant some more Japanese wine berries instead. I might even move them out to the coppice and add them to the forest garden area as they will tolerate shade.

Maybe with some plant breeding these berries could be the next big thing, but they need some work before then!

Have you heard of or grown these berries before? 

What did you think to them?

What unusual fruit, veg or herb do you think i should try to grow next?

Monday 18 September 2017

Good Value To Grow

1.4kg of Organic raspberries picked from the fruit garden Friday morning.
Waitrose organic raspberries are £24 per kg so that's £33.60! 

Although I'd probably settle for their essential British range at £12.75 per kg making this little lot worth £17.85!

If I only had a small garden I'd concentrate on growing berries, tomatoes, salad leaves and courgettes I think. Heavy cropping and high value.
With these we ate some fresh for our lunch, then I made half a dozen jars of raspberry and apple jam (I think it works better with apple so it's not so "pippy").
And dehydrated a load to add to our breakfast, cakes and cookies. These are pretty intense if you have them straight out of the jar! 

Hopefully I'll pick a load more this week as well.

What would you do with a glut of raspberries?

Sunday 17 September 2017

More Ways to Keep In Touch

On the top left hand of this blog I've added a new page - Contact me

This contains all the ways you can follow what we get up to here, some I keep far more up to date than this blog, others not so much.

I'll put the info below as well and if you click to follow me I'll follow you back!

Sharing what I do here and having interaction with like minded people is a big part of keeping all of this fun and interesting, so thanks again for being a part of it.


I'm only getting started on twitter so please follow me and be nice! 


I keep my Facebook page really up to date so if you want to see something as it happens then follow me there as well! 


I enjoy using Instagram and there seems to be great community of like minded growers on there to share ideas and tips with. Come and get involved and let me know what you think of what I post! 


I've been creating more and more content for YouTube lately.  
I really enjoy making videos, although I can't stand the sound of my own voice!
If there's anything you'd like a video on or an area you'd like to see then just give me a shot, I'm always looking for ideas on my next video. 


There's some great things on Pinterest and I'm trying to create more of my own pins from this blog as well. I also pin some great things I find, like recipe ideas, homesteading tips and gardening know how! 

Saturday 16 September 2017

Dehydrating Courgette/Zucchini

There aren't many certainties in gardening, but I can pretty much guarantee you one - you're going to have too many courgettes! 
I know I certainly have, well mine are summer patty pan squashes, but you get the idea. I hate seeing them go to waste, I have about eight plants producing heavily and the chickens can only eat so many. 
There's lots of chutneys and pickles that call for squashes but I haven't got the inclination at the moment and my pantry is still quite full of last years chutneys, so I looked at other ways I could preserve them.
It was time to crack out the dehydrator.

Friday 15 September 2017

Not Wasted Time - Conversation Is Important!

I am guilty of being a very goal oriented person. 

I set myself a list of tasks that's far too long, never get them done and then feel guilty for not having done enough. 

This is at it's worst when the kids have gone to bed. Earlier in the day I think of all the things I'm going to get done that evening. Then when it comes to it my wife and I come down stairs feeling like we've fought a battle just to get them in their pyjamas and clean their teeth. 

We slump down in the sofa and look at each other, that's when my guilt starts. I feel I need to get myself up and moving, the temptation is to get my phone out and look at it like a zombie, learning nothing and doing nothing. 

This is wasting time and it happens more than I'd care to admit. 

One thing that isn't wasting time is to talk to my wife. 

Frequently we have a few evening where we sit and talk to each other for hours, sometimes about important things, sometimes about nothing at all. 

I think I sometimes underestimate how important this is. 

Sometimes I'm in danger of thinking that this is wasting time, no goals have been achieved that night, nothing ticked off the list, but I think in the grand scheme of things it's possibly the most important thing we could be doing. 

You see with three young children and my wife working full time, giving time to conversation between each other is often hard to come by.

One of the many reasons I fell in love with her in the first place is through my love of conversation with her (if that sounds weird I'm sorry). For years we had a long distance relationship where we'd speak to each other every other night on the phone for an hour. Being able to talk to someone who understands you, is willing to listen and has you're best interests at heart is key to a healthy relationship and when children come on the scene it's very easy to let that slip. 

People often ask how I get so much done here, but without my wife none of this would happen. 

Working on keeping your relationship strong is probably the most important job you could do on any homestead! 

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Vlog 8!

Another vlog!

A walk around our place showing you all what we've been up to this summer. 
Also I pop into the extension and show you how much I got done over the summer. 

As always let me know what you think and if there's a video you'd like to see then let me know!

Monday 11 September 2017

Blackberry Picking

Although foraging is going through something of a revival in this country we're far behind other countries. In Greece foraging for edible greens is still really popular and is called "Horta" and they're well known for being weed eaters. Other countries harvest fungi with little worry. 
One type of foraging that I don't think has ever lost it's popularity in this country is blackberry picking. I can remember doing it as a child, through my teenage years and into my twenties and now thirties as well. I should imagine there hasn't been many years when I haven't collected this free fruit from the hedgerows. 
I often see others doing it as well, there's something completely appealing about this easy to identify, tasty fruit, even if you pick an area clean one day, a few days later they are there ready to pick again! 
Eldest looking after the youngest

My children are certainly obsessed with the berry at the moment. 
There's loads by where we park the car that they have to pick at each day as they get out and we've been a few times to fill some punnets up to go in the freezer. A quick walk around the field results in another for a few apple crumbles to warm us for some autumn evenings that seem to have come all of a sudden. 
That said their tubs never come back very full! 

I love doing this with my children, it's certainly something that has been done for thousands of years and I'm sure in much the same way. I reach the high ones whilst the kids gather the low ones (and fill their faces when I'm not looking). 

Who else has been out foraging for blackberries this season? 

Is it something you did with your children?

What's your favourite food to forage?

Friday 8 September 2017

Warner's King Cooking Apple

I've been pruning my cordon apple trees this week and I've been surprised by how much fruit there is in and amongst it. 
One apple I found on the floor was this Warner's King apple, the only apple that this tree produced - but it made it a good 'un!

 Nearly 2lb in weight - almost the same size as my boys head! 
I made two blackberry and apple crumbles with just one apple! One for that night's tea and one to go in the freezer - I am trying to get better at batch cooking! 
Warners King is a great cooking apple, the apple cooks down to a light fluff and tastes great. It was always the first apple tree in my parents old orchard when I was growing up and the first cooking apple that we'd have ripe - I'd look froward to it because it meant we'd have apple pancakes that week! Like any early apple it doesn't keep and they're not all this big! 

I should have a few of these trees for sale in a few months as well so keep your eyes peeled! 

What early cooking apple do you like?

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Making Shields For Children

Last month I was making up some gates for the patio in the workshop when my eldest asked if she could help. Not really with that job but I did think they could make something for their selves - a shield! 
They love play knights so I thought it would be perfect adn a good way to entertain them for a while. 
First we marked out the shape on some scrap ply before cutting it out with the jig saw - the girls love wearing earmuff when the power tools are in operation - I keep two sets so they can both have one! 
Once they were cut out I cut up an old ratchet strap to make a handle and sanded the whole thing smooth. 

They had great fun playing witht hem, the boys was a bit smaller to make up for his size! 
They then spent ages drawing out their designs and their own "crest of arms" to display before going into battle! 
Another afternoons activity out of it when they painted them with mum. 

 I loved their designs, involving sheep, chickens and tractors on the boys (three of his favourite things to say!). 
A good fun way to use up a few scrap bits of plywood and a fun thing to do together, they haven't quite earnt their swords yet though. 

Monday 4 September 2017

A Day With A Market Gardener

I've tried to do a lot of learning over the summer. The way I figure is that I invested a lot of time to learn to become a carpenter, well if I want to be a market gardener then I need to invest some time into learning how to do that properly.
I'd left that day feeling totally inspired and armed with his email and some pretty patchy communications between the two of us we'd managed to stay in contact. I was dead keen to go back up there and "help out" if he could put up with me for a day. Luckily we found a day we could both do (last Thursday). 
So I set out early in the morning and drove up to near Ironbridge to pester Phil with questions all day! 
The idea was that I'd shadow him for the day and see how he operates. doing some jobs with him and asking lots of questions as we did them! 
Picking and washing carrots
It was amazing just to be back in that walled garden, and we were joined by four volunteers who come once a week to help out with some of the bigger tasks, they were doing a great job of weeding huge areas! I could have done with them at mine! 

Big stands of herbs growing ready for picking 
 It was great to see the layout of the garden again and to see how things look in a different season, last time I went it was the end of April so completely different to the end of the summer. There were crops everywhere, either in blocks or rows and Phil knew where everything was, although like me I think he keeps a lot in his head rather than on paper!
The gardens were looking good! 

Sweet corn that we'd harvested that morning

Edible flowers for sale

Another doorway into another garden on the estate

Polytunnel full of tomatoes that we pruned. 

I went with a list in my head of what I wanted to find out and I feel that I came away with the answers I needed, mainly about pricing and marketing of some of the more unusual things I grow here. But also other things I hadn't really thought of selling and how I should set up areas of my little homestead. I need to establish more areas of perennial herbs and plants that can be a good fall back if other crops fail. He had huge stands of herbs around the place and I'm thinking I'd much rather have that than the huge stands of nettles I've got at the moment! I'll be sheeting some areas over ready for planting in next spring outside of my normal garden area. 

When I got back I was really fired up about the whole thing, I got straight on the phone and spoke to a local restaurant to arrange a meeting and to drop off a big box of veggies for them to try. Hopefully I'm going to speak to them and see what type of things they'd be interested in if I started to grow a few things for them next year. I didn't feel confidant enough before as I had no idea what some things should be priced at and didn't want to go in without some of the answers to obvious questions. . 

Hopefully Phil and I are going to keep in contact and swap growing tips, marketing advice as well as seeds and plants in the future. 

A great day and I really appreciate his time in trying to make me a better gardener! 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...