Thursday 30 November 2017

November Walk Around

Another vlog and walk round my place on a cold November morning!
Let me know what you think! 

Monday 27 November 2017

The Diary Of A Stuffed Animal....

Well my daughter had to take home a stuffed animal,Google, and then write a diary of what it got up to over the weekend.
Looking through the diary there's some stiff competition.

The frigging thing lives better than i do. Lately it's been to Disneyland Paris and paragliding!

Not sure trimming the sh$t off the tails of some mucky lambs will really cut it...

Sunday 26 November 2017

5 Year Old With An Axe

With the school run everyday and the nights drawn in it seems that when my eldest gets back from school all I do is cook them tea and put them to bed. It feels a bit of a treadmill.
So On Friday night I went through the rigmarole  of putting all their suits on, and made them go out into the dark and cold. Each with a torch. 
Normally I dart out and leave the kids inside as I go to get firewood. But I  thought that tonight we'd do it as a team. There was a bit of moaning form the younger two! 
Also I want them to be comfortable in the dark, I never feared the dark and I hope they don't either. I got my eldest to split the kindling with me. I held the axe with her and the did the safe and controlled chopping where the firewood moves with the axe.

She loved it! First thing she told her mum when she got home! All proud as I lit the fire! 

Hopefully we'll do more things like this. 

Ideally I could do with a list of tasks that a young one could do with me and take around 30 minutes. Something that could be fitted in after school and would help them learn skills, I'm thinking mainly bushcraft and homesteading type things. We could do something a couple of times a week, maybe making a shelter or creating a camp in the garden. 


Saturday 25 November 2017

Winter tree Pruning

This is something that scares most apple tree owner. People often say to me that they don’t prune them because they don’t know what they’re doing, or I quite often see them pruned in the wrong way.
 The worst thing you can do to an apple tree, in my opinion, is not to prune it. Cutting stimulates growth, you get to shape it into a form that works for you and control it’s growth and fruiting potential.



Winter tree pruning can be any time from when the leaves have fallen until the sap starts to rise and the buds start to swell. I try to do mine before Christmas if I can but have been as late as March before now.
Before starting to prune your tree, step back and have a good look around it. See how it grows and the height it is. Walk around it and see it from every angle.

Now don’t fear the saw. I use a folding pruning saw and a pair of secateurs for all my pruning on my young trees, on mature trees I might use a chainsaw. If you’re not competent with a chainsaw make sure you get someone who is to do that work. It’s far harder cutting in a tree than logging firewood. I’m lucky as my brother is a qualified arborist and has taught me well.

The Dutch, who are masters at pruning and producing fruit, say that we are good at growing more wood not fruit!

mature tree before

Mature tree afterrwards  - hhandy to have two poepel on one like this, very hard to tell when you're in the tree!

As I hand pick the fruit from my trees I want them to grow at my height and no higher than I can reach. I’m not planning on grazing my orchards when they get bigger and because of this I grow all of my trees on MM106 stocks (more on this in another post). 
After - not much to take off this young tree but it should help it to bush out and give more options of branches to choose to grow on. 
 The shape of the tree I’m looking for is a polo tree – one with a hole in the middle. It’s said you should be able to chuck your hat through and it not catch on any branches! 
Getting towards the right tree shape. Could do with another large branch heading towards the camera and away from it. They will come in time. 

This creates plenty of light and air flow, keeping the tree healthier, reducing diseases as well as letting in more light to ripen the fruit. 
Woolly aphid damage
Before you start cutting down branches have a look and see how much fruiting buds it has. This will give you an idea of its fruiting potential (frost and many other factors coming into play of course!). The buds are easy to tell apart, the ones growing close the branches are for leaf and the fatter ones are for flowers (and hopefully fruit). So make sure you don’t remove all your fruiting material! Also as you get more experienced be mindful if it is a tip or a spur bearer (again more in another post on that!).

First go round and remove any damaged or diseased material, looking for woolly aphid and canker, cut this material out, always cutting back to just above a bud where possible.

Look at the whole shape, make sure it’s even, look to the middle and see what’s there. If there’s a strong leader in the middle cut this out. 
Don't fear cutting big branches

Then look at the upwards growth, this will be growing the strongest, so cut some of this out or back to height that suits you. 

Any growth that is touching or covering each other is not ideal and needs to go as well. 

Remember not to cut too much any one year, I’d never go more than a third of small tree in one go. To do so encourages wood growth. Pruning can look brutal but the tree soon comes back! 

After - this tree still needs lots of work but it can be done over many years.
The key shape is a goblet, but remember you’re not trying to get his shape in one year, it can takes years to get the right shape. Also remember that if you make a mistake new branches will grow and replace them. I’ve taken a tree right back to a tall stump before now and started again! 
Try to pick out branches that are a wide angle from the main trunk. they use toothpick like things to space them on some orchards now as it will mean a much stronger branch in the future. remove narrow angle branches as they tend to want to grow upwards.

Key thing is to remember that there’s no rush. Trees are pretty forgiving, new growth will come!

Also a key thing is not to prune below the graft(the scar about 6 inches up)! Not an issue with modern trees which are grafted low down, but some older trees were grafted at head height so if there is vigorous growth low down then this can be the root stock overtaking the fruiting wood.

I wrote this for a Facebook group but decided to share it here as well. I know there are hundreds of methods of pruning but this is what I tend to do. I also summer prune my trained trees each year - but that's for another post!

Let me know your thoughts! 

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Yacon Harvesting

The frost has killed everything it's going to.
Now I really need to get harvesting some root crops. One in particular is the yacon I planted.
I went a bit mad this year and put in a 20ft row of the stuff. It has cropped heavily, so I've no idea what I'm going to do with it all! 

The boy and I set to digging some up last week. I was impressed with the size of the roots, and the weight! They are difficult to harvest without breaking though! Careful digging is needed, pulling them out the ground really doesn't work.
He wasn't sure what to make of them! 
 It's lovely when I do a job and he feel useful. You should have seen him carrying the buckets and digging with his little shovel, then crouching down to have a look. He loves it!
Proud helper

Managed to harvest two buckets full from just two plants with plenty more to go yet! I need to deside where I'm going to store them all! 

Any ideas on what I should do with it all?

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Chicken Processing Mk2

I got myself more organised on Sunday and butchered 9 more chickens.
I set up a patio table with chopping boards on that could be scrubbed down (this is waste sheet material that can be thrown away afterwards). I sharpened my knife, had a steel to sharpen it as I went and two bowls of hot soapy water to keep everything clean. 
I also had two buckets, one for feathers (that can be composted) and one for feet and guts. I also had some plastic feed sacks on hand, one to sit on (it had rained in the night) and one to have on my lap to stop the wet birds from soaking my trousers. 
A large saucepan of water was also warming on the BBQ. 

The birds for slaughter were pulled out before they'd been fed and kept in a crate away from the others until their time came. 
I started with batched but found it was far better to do one at a time, slaughter, drain, dip in hot water, pluck. 
None of them went very quickly but I learnt that having the water the right temperature makes a huge difference. Unfortunately my thermometer doesn't seem to work so I just had to guess. One bird was dipped too hot so I ended up skinning that one as the skin ripped too easily. 
Once I had all the birds plucked I then wiped down and set up for gutting, never a nice job but it went quite quickly.
I separated the birds up into ones that looked good as whole birds and ones that were better jointed. I kept five birds whole and cut the others into breasts, whole legs and wings. 
I then used my new vacuum packer to bag the birds up and separate the jointed ones into meal sized portions. Three legs or breasts seemed about right for our family. 
I bagged and froze the stripped carcasses as well so I can make a big batch of stock when I get chance. 

I certainly felt more organised this time and it went without a hitch. That said there as some things I'd change: 
  • I'd like a chicken plucker, it's not great doing them by hand. 
  • I need a bigger saucepan or something to hot dip the birds into, mine is only just big enough and soon needs topping up with more hot water. 
  • The bench I butchered them on was too low, my back was hurting as I was bending the whole time, I proper work bench would be ideal. 
  • An outside sink would help an amazing amount, something I might have to consider installing! 

So some hard work, but the freezer has certainly been stocked up! 

I've still got six birds left and I'll leave these a while longer to see how big they get, it would be great to have some big ones to save having to buy a turkey for Christmas. 

What do you think? Is there anything you'd do differently to how I set it up this time?

Monday 20 November 2017

Toy Farm Yard

We went over to mum and dad's farm this weekend. It was dads birthday so we were having a takeaway meal together, my sister, brother and his wife were there as well. 
It was a lovely evening.
When we got there we saw that mum had got out the toy farmyard that dad had made me 31 years ago! Dad had made it for my third birthday. 
Mum had got it out of the loft and washed it all down found lots of tractors and animals to go in it.  
My little boy was in heaven! He had great fun moving bales around and tipping over the barns with the tractor!
Unfortunately it's too big to live in our house, but it's something lovely for him to play with when he goes to grandma and granddad's! 

Did anyone make you toys when you were younger? 

Do you have a favourite?

Friday 17 November 2017

What Would You Waste Less If Times Were Hard?

Of course none of it is really waste!

But when you grow your own and cook most of your meals from scratch it can certainly create some waste! Below are two buckets of "waste" that I created between Sunday and Wednesday! 

This all gets added to the compost pile and in time will really help to improve my soil. 
Because I grow so much veg I can be a little more wasteful with some of the veg, for example we eat a lot of Swiss Chard at this time of year (two times a week) but I never use the stems! We've got so much growing, it just doesn't seen worth it. 

 In the buckets above there are the leaves and peelings from cleriac, carrots, beets, chard, courgette (last one), shallots, onions and gone over apples.

If times were hard, very little of those buckets would be heading to the compost pile. Everything would be used, veg would be scrubbed before being peeled, leaves would be saved and I'd make lots of stock each time. This is potentially something I should be doing away, but there are only so many hours in the day.

The cooked peeling would then be strained, the stock saved for human consumption and the cooked peelings would be given to the chickens or other livestock. Although not with the current laws of course!

So if times were much harder what would you waste less of?

What potential food source do you throw away?

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Three Home Butchered Chickens

We had an absolutely mad weekend where we didn't seem to stop! 

We went out on Friday night with friends (this is almost becoming a habit), the girls had multiple ballet performances on Saturday and Sunday, we had a bonfire party to attend and I need to get some work done in the extension as my plasterer is coming this week.
Another job I managed to squeeze in was to butcher three chickens. I had hoped to do more but it started to rain and I was set up outside.

It was only when doing a few birds I realised how I need to be set up much better with a logical work flow. As it was I ended u p walking around a lot because I slaughtered them in a different place to where I plucked and butchered them.

I think I might create a dedicated little area for doing this job. Somewhere that's easy to hose down and keep clean but also has places to hang chickens as they drain, separate chopping boards for different jobs and a much larger boiler for hot plucking them. A cover as well encase it rains might be handy!

I did try the wet plucking method and it was a revelation! The feather came off so much easier and it cuts the job in half, I'm still tempted to make a chicken plucker though, either a wizzbang type one or one that goes on a drill - thanks everyone for the links last time! Just a shame the fingers are so expensive to build one myself. 

I also vacuum packed the birds using a vacuum packer I brought myself last week. Not the easiest thing to use on your own and it took a few attempts to get he seals right but I think I might have been cutting the bags a little small and making it harder for myself. A bit of practice will help as well I'm sure! I'll do a post on this gadget soon!

Anyway, two good sized birds for the freezer (2.1kg and 1.9kg) and one for tea last night. Made an incredible roast and it'll make another nice tea tonight, with the carcass for stock.

I think this will become a regular way that I provide meat for our family, I just need to get more efficient/skilled and have an area dedicated to it.

Does anyone have a good set up for processing at home?

Or do you follow anyone that does? 

I'd be interested in seeing some more set ups before I design my own. Thanks!

Monday 13 November 2017

Microwave Porridge

This is a collaborative post.

Being self-sufficient is tough and I'm not ashamed to take all the help I can get. I cook virtually everything from scratch and with young children, sometimes they just need something quick. And that's where a microwave comes in.

Ours is a fairly low budget model and I’d love to upgrade to something better, these Panasonic Combination Microwaves would be ideal. Something to think about when I’m fitting out our new kitchen in the extension as I want to only fit quality items that won’t need replacing every five minutes.

The main thing I use my microwave for, besides heating up milk for my children (they drink 26 pints a week!) is to cook porridge in the mornings.

Now it’s colder the children want either porridge or toast for breakfast, and as I normally bake rolls most days (far less waste), porridge seems to happen more and more.

It’s painfully simple to make it in the microwave, that’s why mine never sees a saucepan.

One part rolled oats, one part water and one part milk, mixed together then cooked on full for 3 minutes, stirred and then cooked again for a further 3 minutes.  This length of time is to cook for my three kids and me so adjust if it’s just for one of you, if you cook too much you could always try my leftover porridge cake!  

Also a tip for the top – porridge gets bigger as it cooks and boils up, you’ll soon learn that a larger dish is your friend when cooking porridge, unless you like cleaning out the microwave.

But cooking it is easy, trying to get my kids to decide on a topping is the hard bit!

Our choices are either homemade jam (raspberry or damson are a favourite on porridge here and homemade is the only option!), brown sugar (one of my favourites), golden syrup or honey (only my eldest does this as the rest of us hate it), we also add a few 'yeah yeahs' (raisins to you and me) just to alter the texture a bit as we eat it.

If my mum is over then she always brings over a pot of stewed damsons that she keeps in the freezer, tastes amazing and far less sugar than any of the others!
Old picture but I love it! Pink porridge from grandma! 

So do you have a microwave?

What do you use it for mainly?

What’s your favourite Porridge topping? And please, no one say salt or it’ll make me feel ill…

Friday 10 November 2017

How To Make A Quinoa Thresher

So my friends who grew the Quinoa last year and wrote about it to share on here have upgraded how they've threshed their grain. Gone is the child labour and in it's place is some home made technology - my favorite kind! 
They've kindly written me another blog post on processing this years harvest and hopefully I'll get to borrow their thresher to use on my own quinoa which is still hanging up in the extension! 

Last year we threshed our quinoa the old fashioned way with sticks on a tarp which was great fun but felt it was very energy intensive and we didn’t get as much of the grain as possible.  This year, after some research I decided the simplest (and cheapest) option was a home-made flail powered be a cordless drill. 
I already had the drill and some chain left over from another project, the rest I bought from Wickes for about £5.
I had an old black plastic bin with holes in the bottom (that I never got around to throwing away) that we used to grow potatoes in at our previous house. We had such a tiny garden! I used it to hold the quinoa for threshing.  I sat the bin on top of a fine garden riddle and put it all in a plastic trug to catch all the grain. 

The quinoa has been hanging up in the garage to dry off as much as possible. 

I found the most successful way to thresh was to strip as much of the seed heads off the stalks and into the bin and discard the stalks into a compost pile.
Once the pile of seed heads is 4-5 inches deep I begin flailing.  
I started off at a slow speed setting for the first bit and once the heads have been bashed about a bit I switched to the fastest speed whilst covering the bin with a feed sack (I lost the lid years ago!). At this point there was a lot of dust. The seed heads got pulverised and most of the grain was knocked out of the seed heads and I was left with light, fluffy and hopefully empty seed heads.  

I checked to ensure most of the seed had been removed 

 and then tipped the contents of the bin into the riddle 

If there was grain left  I went back to the flail with the drill on the slow setting for another gentle thresh.
Once the grain has been riddled it all ends up in the trug with some of the chaff ready for winnowing / cleaning.  You can see in the photos that the seed is actually pretty clean and almost no stalks or leaves got through the process – it will be interesting to weigh it before and after cleaning.

Parts List
Round bin or bucket
Fine garden riddle (optional but makes life easier)
Garden trug / another bucket to store threshed grains in
M10 Threaded Bar x 1
M10 nuts x 8
M10 Washers x 4
Chain (long enough to reach from centre of bin to side) x 2
Flail Assembly
1.       Cut two lengths of chain to enable them to reach the side of the bin from the centre when spinning.
2.       Thread two nuts up the treaded bar followed by 1 of the washers
3.       Slide the chain against the washer followed by another washer and then 2 more nuts
4.       Tighten the nuts so they lock tightly against each other and clamp the chain tightly to prevent it moving.

5.       Repeat the process with the other piece of chain ensuring it is 180 degrees aligned with the first (to keep the flail balanced when spinning) 

Thank you Spence! What I love about this is that this is written by the other half of the couple that wrote the last last one on growing the quinoa - a real family concern! 

I also like the fact that he seems certain that his yield will be more due to a better threshing method, less grain will be left in the heads and chucked int he compost. they're going to borrow my seed cleaner and see what they come out with and I'll do the same with mine. I should be able to work out what I can grow per square foot to see if it really is worth growing as a self sufficiency staple. 

So let me know what you think! I'm sure you'll all agree that was a great blog post. 

How would you thresh a grain like this?

Thursday 9 November 2017

Meat Birds At 10 Weeks Old

Really hard to get a good picture of these birds but you can see the growth they've had in just ten weeks

I think I'll be processing a good amount of these at the weekend as they seem to have reached a good size now.

I think for now I'll just be dry plucking by hand as I have very little equipment to help me, unless anyone else has any advice? 
I have been looking at the pluckers you can add to the end of a drill and using a hot water bath before hand. And by hot water bath I mean camping stove and a saucepan...

Depending on how processing goes I can see no reason why I won't be doing more birds like this next year!

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