Thursday 27 December 2018

How did I do against my self reliance goals 2018?

It's that time of year again where I look at how I've done against some self reliance goals I set myself earlier in the year. Looking back I'm really pleased with all we've managed to achieve this year and I seem to have managed to at least tick a few things from the list!

#### And Don't worry I know some people are chomping on the bit to see the new kitchen - a short video tour will be uploaded soon I promise! ####

Community -

Well I think I can safely say I'm a fixture of the village now, I'm involved with a few few things now!

The play group has run all year and we have had a great friend join our ranks to help, so with three of us running it and a healthy number of mums and dads turning up each week it seems like the playgroup will run for much longer yet! I'll have been going to the playgroup for five years in the spring and helping to run it for two, such a great way for families to meet each other and hopefully makes new parents feel much less isolated.

I've also tried to help at the children's school where I can as it does feel like the heart of the village.

After completing the school library in time for the opening of the new school in January, I seem to have been roped into a few more projects since then.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

A little late but I'd love to wish everyone who reads and follows this blog a merry Christmas!
 I love being able to share what we get up to here and reading all your comments, emails and interaction on social media.

Thank you! Hope you all had a great day and a nice break up to the new year.

Sunday 23 December 2018

Christmas Dinner prep

I managed to get a bit of our Christmas dinner sorted on Thursday.

I picked out the biggest meat bird we have and processed him ready for the table.

Friday 21 December 2018

Sneak Peek In The New Kitchen

The kitchen is slowly taking shape. 

I'm determined to have it mostly done for Christmas day and to cook and eat in there!

Friday 14 December 2018

What Chickens Are On The Homestead?

I seem to have a lot of chickens here at the moment.

I haven't spoken about them much this year on the blog so I thought I'd give a run down of what I've got and what they're for. 

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Heritage Seed Library Order & Peas Boiling HARD

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm a little obsessed with seeds!

And when I joined our local seed swap group last year it seemed logical for me to join the Heritage Seed Library as well. 

They're part of the charity Garden Organic who try to promote organic gardening. They keep a bank of old varieties of seed that they are trying to prevent from going extinct with members breeding them each year. 

Each year as a member of the HSL you can pick six packs of seed from the list. The idea that you grow a few to taste and the rest to save for seed. The pack size is quite small so it might take a few years before you have enough seed saved to be worth sending back in to the library, instead spending your time to build a reserve. 

Last year was utter chaos for growing for me and I'm glad that I didn't have the last few seeds of anything as I doubt there will be any going back. But that's the beauty of it, some (good) years you can give back to the library and others you can just experiment and see how you do. With lots of members the risk is spread.

The list has lots of options to choose from and from this years I chose some that are relatively easy to grow without the risk of cross pollination. I picked:-

Scotland Yellow Tomato
Bijskij Zelty Tomato
Black coco Dwarf French Bean
Fat Baby Achocha
Bronze arrow lettuce (lucky dip extra)
Sutton's Harbinger Pea
Blue Prussian Pea

In the packs of peas there is only about 8 to 10 seeds so they need to be sown in pots, protected from everything!

I'm especially looking forward to growing Blue Prussian Pea as it's in an American book I own called "Heirloom Vegetable Gardening" by William Woys Weaver.

He describes the pea as "as a excellent split pea" But gives further advice on the storage of dried peas, "like any dry pea should never be kept more than a year. An insightful article called "Why Peas Boil Hard" appeared in the gardener's magazine (April 1831, 249) and explained that if peas are stored too long, they will cook "hard," never really softening no matter how long they are boiled. This observation is as true now as it was then, with one further footnote: peas stored for two or three years have also lost significant portion of their nutritional value. This is why it's important to date all stocks of dry peas and beans."

Really interesting I'm sure you'll agree, but I should imagine that the fact we can now store them in airtight containers and in vacuums would seriously increase their shelf life.

One years soup peas collected from a handful of peas - These are called Latvian Soup Peas or the "Grey Pea" 
So I'll try to build a stock of seeds from the 8 I have. Might take a couple of years, or the efforts of a mouse could wipe it out before I begin! Peas are easy to build up numbers though so I'm hopeful.

Anyone experimented with how long you can keep soup and dried peas for before they stay hard even when cooked?

Who else is in the Heritage Seed Library and what have you ordered for next years growing season?

Sunday 9 December 2018

Banana & Chocolate Fairy Cakes

Each week we buy a lot of bananas and normally the kids fire through them like they're the last ones on earth. 

But sometimes they get pushed to the back of the bowl and forgotten or I buy too many (the children are as unpredictable as me!) 

So when that happens we turn to baking!

Sunday 25 November 2018

Cooking On Wood - Burnt Cake

Last week I started to experiment with cooking on our new wood stove

I love it already, even though we're not in the new kitchen yet I've been keen to use it, mainly for heat but having the oven right there has meant I've wanted to try it. 

Saturday 24 November 2018

£3 For 15kg Of Carrots

Now as many of you know I'm never one to pass up on a bargain!

And the other day I picked up a huge 15kg bag of carrots for £3. Bargain!

Now I must confess this isn't at the supermarket, instead I got these from the animal feed store local to us.

Saturday 17 November 2018

New School Forest Garden

As many of you know I'm the sort of parent that gets roped into things, I seems to have an inability to say NO at the best of times, but when it's helping kids I'm even worse.

The school library is the perfect example of this!

Blank canvas
Somehow since the spring I've been attending some small meetings with the head mistress, Felicity - the garden designer and the teacher who runs Eco-club. We've been talking and making plans to create a new forest school and vegetable garden area that the kids can use and enjoy.

Monday 12 November 2018

Our New Wood Oven

A key thing for me when building our new extension was to make sure we had a means of cooking and heating off grid should we need it. 

We already have a stove in the sitting room that we use all winter. There's not many nights between November and March where it's not lit and we have plenty of firewood to keep us going. 

And although we can put a pan on top of the stove it's not ideal to cook with. 

Love the look of our new stove! 
I was a little obsessed with finding the right stove for our house and spent many houses researching what we should have and what would fit. To start with I thought it would just be another log burner like we had in the sitting room, maybe with a small oven on top. Luckily once I'd worked out what size we'd have available and spoke to some experts it turned out we could have a full on range in there!

Sunday 4 November 2018

I Made Our Double Bed - The Economy Of Making Your Own

Lay in bed I could literally count the springs sticking into my back. 

I'd wake up feeling worse than when I'd gone to sleep. The mattress had to go and the crappy bed with it. 

The Mattress in question was 10 years old and the first bed that we purchased after having a few second hand ones from family. 
Our new bed!!!
It was from Ikea along with the bed frame. I broke the bed frame the first night by pushing one bit with my foot and it's not got any better, slats fall out frequently and I had to make some modifications the first few weeks of having it. By the end I'm fairly sure it's just my collection of books that's keeping it up!

Thursday 1 November 2018

Dried Pears

I was helping with the cake cafe after school the other day and when it was time to clean up they were getting rid of anything that might go off over half term. 

I managed to bag us 10 bottles of milk and a bag of apples before I asked what was happening to all the pears in the baskets outside the key stage one classrooms. No way would they keep for a week over half term in that warm school, some had started to turn already.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Meat Chicks Out Of The Brooder

The meat chicks grow at an amazing rate and what started out as a lovely roomy brooder soon becomes cramped. Also becasue I think they sent me more chicks than I ordered (29 instead of 26) and that means space was getting tight.

This week I turned off the heat from the heat plate to get them ready for living outside.

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Winter Stories Wanted!

In this post I'm after a bit of help! 

I'm currently writing an article for a popular magazine about being prepared for hard winters - A kind of batten down the hatches and stock up piece. 

Last winter will be one we remember for a long time! 
I want to give lots of advice but also contain some stories from hard winters in the past, especially on farms, smallholding and homesteads. Winters like 1963 or 1982 spring to mind, although they were before my time so it would be great to have some first hand accounts and stories.

Also I'd love to know what unusual items or ones most people wouldn't have thought of that you now keep in stock because of a hard winter or a problem you had to overcome.  

If anyone has any old pictures from winters past it would be great if I could use them? I'd love some pictures of people and animals snowed in or pictures of heavy snow - I bet there's some great pictures out there! 

You can leave comments here or email through pictures via my contacts page or through social media and you'll have my everlasting thanks and a mention! 

Sunday 14 October 2018

Roofing In The Wind

So with much juggling of childcare this last week I managed to help start putting my brothers roof on in some of the worst weather we've had in months!  

Conditions have been far from ideal but we've made a bit of progress with this roof for the  house my brother is currently building.

Monday 8 October 2018

Brooder Extension

On my last post Jo mentioned that she didn't have anywhere to keep chicks under a heat lamp.

This is initially what put me off getting day old chicks. Every brooder set up I saw was in a shed or a barn and I don't have that kind of space available unfortunately. I've even had friends keep them in their dinning room before now but that isn't something I fancied as they soon start to smell!

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Meat Chickens

Last year we had great success growing some meat birds for the freezer, so as everything else winds down I thought it would be a great thing to do again. 

This time I got 26 day old chicks delivered out to me on Wednesday of last week. It was far more cost effective than driving to get them and the company delivers lots of poultry so really knows what it's doing.

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Walking For Pleasure

### This is collaborative post ###

This year I've been putting extra effort into looking after myself. 

My new mens ski Jacket ready for winter walking on the hills

I'm only 35 but already I can start to feel aches and pains more. There have also been a couple of instances that have really slowed me up and made me think.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Autumn Days

Autumn always seems to come faster than I expect. I do love it, but it is over so quickly and before I know it the fire is lit and winter is here. 

But Autumn has plenty of treats and I'm enjoying trying to use my evening once I've picked the kids up to enjoy them.

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Apple Diversity

I'm late in "summer" pruning my cordon apples this year. But as I trimmed them back I was amazed by the variety and quality of fruit in this trained hedge. 

It's a great year for apples and for the first time my main orchard is loaded with fruit, as are my cordon trees in the veg garden.

Sunday 9 September 2018

First Day At School Number 2!

So Tuesday it was time for my youngest daughter to start school.
Sisters ready for school
Like when my eldest started, I enjoy sharing milestones with people and friends that have read this blog for years and it's also something I love looking back on.

She was so excited about this and has been ready to start for well over a year now!

Sunday 2 September 2018

More Kitchen Progress

Sorry I haven't posted this last week or replied to comments - I've been working flat out to try and get so we can use some of that space again before the weather turns and we can't eat outside anymore!

Lots more progress though.
Everything was plasterboarded and ready for Sean, my good friend and plasterer, to come and skim it. 

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Building A New Fireplace

Last week was another hard one, made worse by the fact I broke my toe! I just limped a bit - it was only my little one thankfully!

It was finally time to tackle the fireplace!

A little bit of me has always hated this old open fireplace. We used to hide it with an old bookcase I made my wife for Christmas years ago.

Trouble was it was built with the same iron hard bricks and mortar as the rest of the house - not easy to take down I can tell you!

Friday 17 August 2018

Looking At hydroponics

This is a collaborative post.

So following on from my post about conserving water I’ve also been thinking lots about different growing methods and if I’d like to try any others, particularly if they’d be better in a hot summer.
From searches about straw bale gardening, to no dig, to minimum tillage, one that keeps popping up again and again is growing hydroponically.

Straight away I can see one major downside to this, the initial cost of set up. Having a good hydroponic system set up isn’t going to be cheap but once its set up all you have to provide are the hydroponic nutrients, water and a medium for them to grow in and keep the system working.

I remain sceptical about it all but I did speak to a strawberry farmer, who is a friend of my fathers, the other day and he said to me “No one growing strawberries commercially does it in soil anymore, that’s a thing of the past.”

Tuesday 14 August 2018

6 Gardening Tips for Hot Weather

This is a collaborative post.

This year has made me see some real short comings in my garden lately, mainly in the fact that I’m not that well prepared for really hot weather. With the soaring temperatures we’ve had lately it’s something that we all need to give a bit of thought to.

Provide Some Shade
The greenhouse got up to some crazy temperatures on sunny days. I noticed one day that it was well over 50 degrees C in there. I temporarily shaded it by using an old dust sheet on the south side.

Having some gardening supplies, like pots with water reservoirs would help as well. I think I might even move back to having greenhouse beds rather than growing in buckets in the future.

Wednesday 8 August 2018

Destroying the Dining Room

It's been a hard couple of day! 

After months of doing jobs leading up to it and lots of planning, I've finally made the big push and started to knock through to the extension downstairs!

It's been messy!

Friday 3 August 2018

Ruby Wedding Anniversary

Last weekend my parents had their 40th wedding anniversary!

I'm sure you'll all agree that is an incredible milestone for them to reach. To celebrate they invited us away for the weekend to Wales, along with my brother, his wife and baby and my sister with her partner.

Friday 27 July 2018

Day Out To Eastnor Castle

I think like most people we're guilty of not doing the attractions that are right on your doorstep. 

Excuse the bus in the photo...

So this week when it came to our 9 year wedding anniversary (9 years!!! can't believe how fast that time has gone!) we decided to go out for the day and in the end chose somewhere that is less than four miles away.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Prepping On A Budget - Easy Cooking Off Grid

Okay so the last two posts in this series have talk about storing water for three days and enough food for an extra seven days. Now I want to talk about what you'd do to cook that food if your normal means weren't working.

Having a secondary cooking source is a really important area of preparedness. Being able to boil a kettle gives you a great way to make water safe to drink and also being able to heat food is great for making us feel better and making it good to consume.

Bringing firewood for next winter - for cooking and heating

I talked to a few friends after the winter storms we had this year. I was surprised how few had a secondary way of cooking, let alone heating themselves had the power gone out. Many are on gas but lots of modern gas cookers have an electric ignition/fan, etc so won't work without the power (worth testing if in doubt).

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Malaysian Pickle - Quick, Low Allergy Acar

As mentioned in a previous post, I decided my life wasn't busy enough so I've started to volunteer at the local Beaver scout group. This has been great fun and with a group of friends its been fun to have a bit of input into what we get up to each week. 

A few weeks ago one of my friends and I got to plan out the lesson on healthy eating. This is a subject I'm quite passionate about and really enjoy getting my own children to help with food. We were constrained a bit though, having fourteen 6-8 year olds cooking at the same time would be hard work and having enough facilities to keep them all occupied would be nearly impossible!

Friday 13 July 2018

Prepping On A Budget - 7 Days Of Food

This is the second part of my Prepping On A Budget series. After last weeks post on showing how easy it is to store three days worth of drinking water, this post should show how easy it is to store an extra seven days worth of food.

Food should be another big consideration when you think about preparedness.

Now for the purpose of this post I'm not talking about going out and spending thousands on freeze dried food or hundreds on MRE's that you can put in your bunker for 20 years. More about how small changes in shopping and storage habits can make a big difference to the amount of food you have in case of an emergency.

Monday 9 July 2018

One On One Time - Dad Daughter - kayaking & Walking

I'm lucky that I spend a lot of time with my children, being a stay at home dad has been one of the best decisions of my life. 

One thing I always enjoy is when I get to spend a bit of one-on-one time with one of them. Finding time to do this can be hard as they're quite a tight little group! 

Just lately, to add to the stupid amount of things I try to fit into my life, I've become a new Beaver Scout leader. I'm only learning at the moment and I've managed to rope in a couple of good friends as well so we're all learning together. It's been great fun so far with loads of activities and it's been brilliant to see my eldest interact with her peers in a way I wouldn't normally.

Friday 6 July 2018

Prepping On A Budget - Water

It's okay, you can put your tin foil hats away, I'm not digging a bunker, well not yet anyway... This is a post about keeping three days supply of water ready at hand.

I worry about how unprepared people in general seem to be. And I'm not talking about for a coming war or zombie apocalypse, I'm talking just for the bumps in the road of everyday living.

Monday 2 July 2018

Packed Summer Already!

It's been a busy couple of weeks and a lot has been going on. Sometimes it's good to just take a minute look back at it. Especially in this mid day heat - great to have an excuse to be inside!

Helping me make elder flower champagne. My youngest daughter was so funny. She tried a bit and then said "OHHHH, it's LOVELY, can I take some in my water bottle to preschool?" Er no...
The children and I have been busy foraging lots of elder flowers for making champagne, wine, cordial and fritters! I plan to do a post on all of these soon but the kids have loved helping out!

My wife had a day off last week as a day in lieu of working a weekend on a school trip, it was lovely to spend the day with her, we even managed to get up the hills for a walk before it got too hot in the morning.

Friday 22 June 2018

Making A Huge Desk!

So even though I've been busy with everything else around here (trying to finish the extension etc) I took on a large commission a few weeks ago. 

It was to help create a new music studio for a customer. There was a list of jobs that needed doing, construct a ceiling, lay a floor, fit a soundproof door, build a massive 3.5m horse shoe shaped oak desk...

Tuesday 19 June 2018

The Hedge Magazine

When at the seed swap earlier this year I was asked if I'd be interested in writing for "The Hedge" magazine. One was slipped into my hand to read. 

When I got home I sat down for half an hour and read it cover to cover. 

It was beautiful. Full of poems and well written monologues about rural life as well as some stunning illustrations as well. I loved it, it really felt like a lovely publication, I was only too keen to write to the editor and say I'd love to write for them. 

It's locally based (Herefordshire) not-for-profit publication released twice a year and as they say in their own blurb - "it's place to recognise how the local affects the global"

Sunday 17 June 2018

Biodegradable Baby Wipes

This is a collaborative post

I'm always trying to make small moves to be more sustainable. Somethings we're great at, like growing our own food, others need improvement like waste production.

We still produce a fair bit of rubbish for landfill and that's something I'm really working hard to reduce. Having a young family doesn't help this, they seem to create rubbish just by being!

Something different - 100% biodegradable wipes!

One thing we're terrible with is baby wipes. I know we should be using flannels where we can but it's not always practical. Also we give our washing machine some serious stick at the best of times and the last thing we need at the moment is more washing! 

Thursday 14 June 2018

Dehydrated Baked Beans

This is a bit of random one, but there is logic in my madness I promise!

So I dehydrated a tin of baked beans the other day. I know this isn't 100 percent normal behaviour but I'm on a bit of dehydrating marathon at the moment.

A friend and I were going wild camping a few weeks ago, the idea being that we could only take what we could carry. A simulated "bug out" where you have to just grab a bag of stuff and get out the house. In something like this weight becomes very important as soon as you have to walk any kind of distance.

Sunday 10 June 2018

Hellen's Garden Festival 2018

We had such a great day today. 

It's been a long hard week with my work having to take priority and wife having to deal with an Ofstead inspection at her school. So it was great to be able to spend the day together as a family at Hellen's garden festival again this year.

We look forward to it each year and it never disappoints!

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Wild Camping In A Thunder Storm

I'd been on about going wild camping with a friend for ages. The idea being that we were only aloud to bring one bag of kit in, just what we could carry in one go. 

So this weekend we finally got round to doing it and it was great fun and a good test of gear and equipment,

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Fermented Wild Garlic

With so much wild garlic ready for picking at the start of the month I wanted to properly take advantage of it this year. 

I looked online and in a few books to see what else could be done with this wild harvest. One idea that really got me curious was to ferment it. I've been wanted to try more fermented stuff and as I have a talk on preserving later in the year I thought that might make a useful bit of the talk! 

Friday 18 May 2018

Not A Sheep Shearer!

When you keep sheep they're always at the back of your mind. Its a feeling I'd liken to when I was at school and you always had homework due, there always seems like something to do!

This time of year is no exception. Even after a good lambing there are still no end of things to think about.

Monday 14 May 2018

New Play Area For The Kids

The kids love being outside at this time of year.

Crafts outside - painting money boxes!

This is great for me as it means I can get on with jobs outside whilst they flit between playing and helping me. They love playing in their Wendy house and have spent many happy hours in there, selling ice creams and being "mums and dads". 

At Christmas their grandparents (my wife's side) brought them a climbing frame. It's huge! I had no idea where I was going to put it up. Ideally it wanted to be somewhere I wasn't going to have to mow around (as I have no lawn mower at the moment) and near enough to the patio so if we have a BBQ we can still keep an eye on them. 

Friday 11 May 2018

Jakoti Hand Shears Review

There are certain bits of farming I love and certain bits I hate. Dagging sheep is firmly in the "hate" camp but it's also a fairly essential job to do when it's needed! 

Dagging is the job of trimming around the sheep's bum to remove the muck that accumulates there. 

For years I've struggled with this job, using traditional "Double Bow" type shears. They never cut much, blunt too easily, hurt my hands (and my hands are fairly tough) and won't get through dried muck so you end up pulling that off first. Trouble is until you see something else you carry on with the way you were taught.

There must be an easier way...

Monday 7 May 2018

A Day At Blists Hill Victorian Town

We decided to treat the kids to a day out this Bank Holiday weekend that we knew both my wife and I would enjoy! We'd both been to Blists Hill museum in the past, long before we had kids, when my wife was checking it out for a school visit.

The sun was shining and we hoped we'd be in for a good day.

Saturday 5 May 2018

How To Grow Squash To Save Seeds

Those that regularly read my blog will know that I'm somewhat in love with growing squash.
Some of last years winter squash harvest
Most years I grow huge numbers of the brilliant fruits and at least 10 varieties. I love the shapes and the colours, the different tastes and learning which ones grow and store well here. I've done this for many years now and have tried dozens of different squashes.

One thing I've yet to do is save the seed from them that would grow true. Squash are a very promiscuous veg and cross ridiculously easy with each other, with the numbers I was growing there was no way the seeds were going to stay pure by chance.

Monday 30 April 2018

Capping Fence Posts

Ever since I put the fence posts in with my dad a few years ago he's been on at me to cap the tops of the larger telegraph poles that we used as gate and corner posts. 

I know he's right on this one, left they start to rot from the middle out as the preservative is near the outside of the post.

Around the same time I saved a load of lead from a roof I was repairing to do the job, but never got round to using it!

This weekend I finally managed to get the job done. Pretty simple and it didn't take long, I just cut out some circles of lead with snips, bashed it round the top of the posts and fixed it in place using a few copper nails.

Friday 27 April 2018

Foraging A Meal

I always enjoy a simple bit of foraging food for a meal and I like teaching the children what they can look for.

Sunday 22 April 2018

A Book On Firewood

Just finished reading this. What a beautiful and thoughtful book. A true joy to read.

And I'm feeling pretty good that most of my firewood is sorted! Just one more stillage to go.

Anyone else read this book?

Do you have a favourite book on a random subject that you recommend to others?
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