Tuesday 31 December 2019

Making A Climbing Wall

A month or so ago I mentioned that I was going to be building the kids a climbing wall for Christmas. 

With my bout of flu I was worried it was never going to happen, but luckily I felt well enough a few days before Christmas so dad came over to lend me a hand.

The video below shows how I built it (with dads help on day one). The mud was a real barrier to getting it finished easily! 

Sunday 29 December 2019

Broken jaw

So Christmas went well, I'd just about recovered from flu, managed to get the kids present made (I'll share the video in my next post) and we'd spent lots of time with friends and family. Then on the night after boxing day I'd cooked a turkey curry for tea and sat down to eat it with the wife and kids.

I'd been struggling to get rid of a cough that I picked up with the flu, during the meal I got up during a coughing fit to get some water. This coughing, coupled with the getting up quickly made me back out and faint.

Turns out I hit the floor hard, face first. When I came round a couple of minutes later my wife and kids were crouched down my me, I was lay in a pool of blood. I had no idea what was going on, I thought I had my ear buds in and was working! I managed to get up and go lie down, my ears was hurting like mad, I'd broken a couple of teeth and cut my chin pretty bad.

My wife phoned 111 and we waited for a call back that never came. In the end we rang again and decided to go to A&E, my friend came over and picked up the kids to look after them.

Got to A&E about 9 and had to wait until 1 in the morning to get seen. Then things got moving pretty fast when they saw blood had come out of my ear. They wouldn't let me be on my own then! I was taken to have a CT scan and then three x-rays of my head and one of my chest. 

Tuesday 24 December 2019

The Last Hedge

I've not had the best week, having spent a large part of the last seven days in bed with the flu. It really has knocked me for six but I'm nearly back to my old self. 

One thing that did make me smile was when this issue of The Hedge (it's last issue ever unfortunately) turned up.

I wrote this near the start of the year and I was unsure whether it would get published or not. It does make me wonder if I should think harder about my titles in future though! It's a subject I'm passionate about though so always happy to talk or write about it.

I've enjoyed my writing this year, if you're interested in seeing what I've written and had published then check out my page In Print at the top of this blog or click here.

Anyway luckily I've managed to get a few days outside to build the kids Christmas present, it was getting a bit close at one point, dad came on the Sunday and nearly got stuck. Watch this space to see what I built them - but only if they like it!

Sunday 15 December 2019

This Years Heritage Seed Library Order

One of the things I love most is seeds! Growing them, saving them and I have a rather large guilty pleasure of ordering them!
The Heritage Seed Library order is my first this year, although I've been sent some seeds from different friends around the country. One I'm really keen to try is a small packet of an old wheat variety.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Letters To Father Christmas

I've loved the children's letters to father Christmas every time they've sent them, and this year is no exception. 

Our eldest has asked for a sewing machine, she is sewing obsessed at the moment.

Our middle child has asked for a toy robot and a pirate map.

And the youngest has asked for two toy whales (to go with the one he has) and a bubble gum dinosaur (a weird toy for about a pound he saw in a shop a while ago).

To have such simple wants in life is lovely.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Dutch Oven Cooking

I managed to do another Bushcraft lesson with the school today. 

This was with Year 1, my younger daughters class. I did a similar lesson in the summer with my eldest.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Wet Muddy Chicken

The rains lat week have certainly made everything pretty muddy around here. Looking at the news it's pretty obvious that we got off lightly.

Floods down the lane we live down. And people ask why I drive a 4x4...
 The worst that happened around here was that some roads were blocked by floods and the school got shut for half a day, more because I think the teachers were worried about how they'd get home than any risk to the children. It gave them a cosy afternoon watching a film - until a friend rang to say he'd run out of fuel!

On the Friday morning I went to move my 25 meat chickens and I could see instantly that I had 24 white chickens and one that was brown and crusty...

Thursday 14 November 2019

Restoring My Dutch Oven

After moaning that the school my two daughters go to doesn't do enough outdoor stuff, I ended up volunteering my services to go in and do a session with them one afternoon. 

The teacher who I'm going in to assist wanted to cook up the huge pumpkin that she had got in for halloween a few weeks ago.

Friday 8 November 2019

Planning What To Make The Kids For Christmas

IT's been a couple of years since I made the kids a Christmas Present. This year I'm really keen to get back into the habit.

Last year I put up a new play area for them which their grandparents got them. I can't understate how much they've used this. there wasn't a day in the summer where they didn't spend at least a few hours on there and every snack they had was eaten on the swing or den.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Club Talks & Family Life

 Last night I went for a garden club talk in a village the other side of Herefordshire.

It was a cracking venue, an old church, but fully carpeted! The talk I was giving was on preserving, one of my favourite subjects - especially this time of year.

Sunday 3 November 2019

Wednesday 30 October 2019

My Brothers Porch

A few weekends ago I finally got round to putting the porch up that I've made for my brothers new house. 

I'd made the truss up a few months ago so it was great to get it up and into place.

Sunday 27 October 2019

Trying To Get A Years Worth Of Snacks

Snacks are much under rated in some self sufficiency books. 

But for us they are a high priority, my kids are proper grazers and have lots of snacks during the day. 
And it's my aim to try to produce more of our own. 

Monday 21 October 2019

New Shelves For The Pantry

I've started to kit out my dream pantry.

First job is to make up some shelves. These need to be heavy duty and look nice. I decided against buying adjustable shelves as I've never been that impressed and they don't have the right look for what I'm going for.

I made these from 3x2 cls which is about the cheapest timber you can buy but still looks okay when you rub the sander over it a few times. The base of the shelves is 18mm ply which sits in a rebate. Hopefully this should never move or flex no matter how much I store on it!

The video above shows what I made and how I did it. If you watch it please let me know what you think. I've made a few more bits since then and I'm pleased with how the room is shaping up!

Thursday 17 October 2019

Another Birthday - Children Are Now 3, 6 & 7!

I honestly can't believe that our children are now three, six and seven! It's gone so fast but it's been amazing!

A bridesmaid dress she got form the jumble sale that she wore the whole day. 

This one turned six this week. She an incredible young lady, full of fun, , humour, intelligence, mischief and fiestiness, and she certainly knows how to keep us on our toes!

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Small Scale Grain - Amaranth

As a bit of an experiment this year I've tried to keep the two beds in my front garden looking nice but still be productive. 

A crop I chose for this duel purpose was Amaranth.

Friday 11 October 2019

Forage And Feast Course - Harts Barn

This year for Christmas one of my presents from my mum was a days course at Harts Barn Cookery School. 

Amazing cooking facilities!

The course mum had booked was called "forage and feast" and she had booked it for this month because autumn is an abundant time of year, but mainly because she hates wild garlic and thought if we did it in the spring that would feature heavily.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Day Old Chicks In October

Each year (or the last few anyway) we grow a small batch of 25-30 chicks to provide chicken meat through the rest of the year.

We chose to do this in the later part of the year for a few reasons. If we get them now and start processing birds in 8- 12 weeks then generally our work load will be lower. Also the much lower temperatures will mean that the birds can "rest" once prepared for a few days making the meat much more tender. We don't have the fridge space to do this in the summer.

Currently we're still buying in day old Ross Cobb chicks and this is something I'd liek to eventually move away from as they're not the easiest breed to work with. We've never had much problem with them going off their legs and things (common problems) but it's not something I want my stock to experience either.

In the future it would be great to have a breeding group of hens with a cockerel so that they could produce a much smaller, regular supply of birds through the year, without having to buy in any chicks. This is something I've talked about for years now and really need to get and do it!

Let me know what you think. Would 25 chickens provide your chicken meat for the year for your family? These birds do get big and one breast will generally provide our family of five with enough meat for a meal.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Little Seed Saver

The children are generally pretty tired when they get home from school.

Now this doesn't mean that I let them sit and watch TV all night (although they do watch some). Their evening are filled with many different activities and clubs. 

Sunday 29 September 2019

Making Damson Jam/Jelly

Damson Jam is easily my favourite jam to eat. Sweet bit with a hint of sharpness! 
But with so many stones it can be a pain to make.

Here's a video of how we make it and make sure we have no stone in it!

Let me know what you think!

What's your favourite type of homemade jam?

Friday 27 September 2019

Making An Insulated Pantry Door

The pantry project is moving forward!

I've decided to upgrade the door to this storage room. What I want to make sure is that the kitchen stays warm and the pantry stays cool. Having a door with insulation in it and having it well sealed will help me do this.

This video is quite carpentry based but shows how I went about making a new door. Not traditional construction but hopefully a few will find it interesting!

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Tomato - Sweet Current

At the Hereford Seed Swap earlier in the year a lady I was speaking to recommended I grow a tiny type of tomato. 

It's because we were talking about my grazing children and how they love to pick at fruit around the garden.

Sunday 22 September 2019

Blackberry Cake

I don't have to guess where my children have their passion for free food. 

My youngest daughter even said to me the other night that it;s such a good year for blackberries. And they do seem particularly good this year, sweet and plentiful!  Although I did catch one of them planting blackberries in the veg garden to increase next years harvest!

Monday 16 September 2019

Apple Storage Rack

I made a load of fruit crates a while ago that stack together to store our apple harvest. 

These have been great in some ways. It gives a good airy store place and allows apples to sit for a long time. The downside is that because they stack you can only access the top tray. I wanted something a bit different, more like drawer unit. I'd seen many online but wanted something a bit bigger to fit the space I had.

Thursday 12 September 2019

Children Playing Bake Off

As a family there is a few programmes we watch together, one of these is The Great British Bake Off. The kids just love it and are always inspired by it. 

All of this year they've been playing "Play-dough Bake Off" at every opportunity. They get their play dough out, we set them a theme and then they get to it. My youngest will run round shouting "3 minutes left!" and the girls will panic to finish at the end - just like the program.

Friday 6 September 2019

Old Newspaper

When I was ripping out the old kitchen I pulled out some old newspaper out of an old blocked off chimney.

One was from the Ledbury Evening News July 7th 1975 and advert from the classifieds:

I love the thought of going to get peas like this!

And the second was from The Sun and an advert for chief engineers on an Antarctic expedition.

 I think the readership of the Sun might have changed somewhat from those times! 

What old snippets of history have you found while working on a property?

Ideally I'd like to find a pot of gold...

Sunday 1 September 2019

Brimfield Vintage Working Day 2019

After speaking to a family friend the other day about an item of machinery for one of my articles, he mentioned that it was their vintage working day this weekend.

Now we often go for a day out with Grandma (my mum) but not very often with Granddad (my dad) and I thought this would be perfect for him as well as he normally goes to it every year anyway. 

Saturday 31 August 2019

Pantry Build Part 2 - Dividing Wall

So the pantry has progressed some more this week. 

The stud wall is in, so the utility and pantry are divided.

My youngest was so funny when I first did it, he wondered round to the one side, tilted his head a looked at it, then went to the other side and did the same. Then comes up to me and says "I hate it, I want it as one!". Difficult to please everyone!

Thursday 29 August 2019


As you know if you read this blog regularly (or have spoken to me for more than a minute) I love to grow unusual food. 

I love growing something that isn't easily available in this country or easy to get hold of, something that might bring a new taste or experience. Sometimes they're a let down and other times they're incredible.

And I have to put Agretti in the latter category.

Monday 26 August 2019

3 Types Of Damsons

Just a short post showing the three types of damsons I have on my trees in the orchard at the moment.

From left to right -  "Merryweather", "Langley Bullace" and "King of the Damsons"
I have three different types and all three trees have grown like crazy since I planted them about 6 years ago. 

This year I seem to have fruit on all three for the first time, not very much though so I doubt I'll be making any jam unless I get some from mum and dads farm in a few weeks.

Saturday 24 August 2019

Pantry Build - Part 1 - Rip Out

Now hand on heart I can honestly say I haven't finished all the other jobs in the house.There's a lot of painting to do, but everything else is pretty much there. Painting can be done on wet horrible days and with a few hours here and there

For seven years this was it for a kitchen, seems so tiny now. 

So as the weather is good and I'm at a point with my paying work where I can take a short break from it, I decided to look at making a start with the new pantry area

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Stone Fruit - What should I plant?

Although I look at each year and see where I can improve it's great to see things at certain points and think "there's something to add to my list!"

This year it's been like that with the stone fruit. We've just not had enough and I need to plant more!

Sunday 18 August 2019

Family Days Out - St Fagan National Museum of History

I'm going to write this one up, but it's not a full review as the place is so big I don't even feel like we touched the surface of what it had to offer!

This turned out to be one of our wettest days out ever, but we still loved St Fagans National Museum of History.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Family Days Out - Centre For Alternative Technology

Yesterday we made a trip to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology. 

Testing out the solar panels and seeing how much difference some "clouds" could make. 
It's been somewhere I've want to visit for a long time now and I thought it would make a great day out for the family. We weren't disappointed. 

This is a very picture heavy post so be warned! 

Monday 12 August 2019

Meadow Sweet Champagne/Sparkling Wine

This year I was a little bit gutted that I just didn't get round to making any elder flower champagne like I did last year. 

Meadow Sweet
But then a thought hit me as I was driving down the country lanes where we live. I wonder if I can make something with the amazing smelling Meadow Sweet that seems to be growing on every verge around here. 

Saturday 10 August 2019

Car Games

Long car journeys with these crazy clowns are never boring.

 Stopped at a cherry farm on the side lf the road and ate our body weight in cherries then played lots of car games.

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Japanese Wineberries

Japanese wineberrys are a relatively new joy I look forward to each year.

I didn't realise how much the kids look forward to them each year as well until today.

Monday 5 August 2019

Friendly Soap Giveaway!

#### This is a Collaborative post ####

My first ever giveaway post!!

My wife an I were talking the other day and we realised it is over 7 years now since I have brought any shampoo. In this time I have just been using a bar of soap.

And just lately I've been using a bar that I've really fallen in love with.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Barley Wood Walled Garden

Last weekend my wife and I managed to have a few days together without the children!

It felt very odd at first but we soon got used to it! The first day was sweltering with high temperatures so we didn't feel like doing much. We were staying near Bath and had planned on visiting a lake but when we got there we couldn't see it for all the safety notices! So with a quick search on google I found a walled garden to go visit that was fairly near. 

Thursday 25 July 2019

10 Year Anniversary

Who would have thought that anyone could put with me for this long?

Hats off to her I say!

I'm sure that I'm going to look back on the last ten years as some of the best of my life and my wife has been the perfect person to share them with. We've been married for ten years but together pretty much our whole adult lives.

There has been ups and downs but mainly it's been ups. We done everything we've set out to achieve, started a family, bought our forever home and smallholding and spent lots of time around our children as they start to grow up. Hopefully focusing on the things we think are important.

Here's to the next ten years!

Friday 19 July 2019

Cabbage & Beetroot Sauerkraut

When we were at Hellens Garden festival last month we tried some amazing ferments made by a local firm. 

The two I liked best were the kimchi (hot and spicy) and a beetroot sauerkraut. What set this sauerkraut apart from others I'd tried was the addition of ginger and garlic. It just lifted the flavour so much!

So I decided it was time I had a go at making it. I loved our fermented wild garlic from a few years back so thought it would be good to get back into it.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Hay Making

AS we have no sheep this year we've had a surplus of grass to deal with.

In the past I've got contractors in to cut the grass and bale the hay, whilst I turn it to dry it. Then I could then do something with the hay.

This year I took a different approach as the contractor I used to use is no longer trading.

Sunday 14 July 2019

Emergency Garden Club Speaker!

The last few weeks have gone like a blur. ShireJam really took it out of me and it took a while to get back to normal.

The worst was that after using my voice quite heavily all weekend I really needed it Tuesday night. I should say that the kids were well behaved over that weekend - I wasn't shouting at the kids but you needed to be loud to be heard over all the children there!

I seem to be getting a few more talk bookings for gardening clubs lately which is great news for me. Because I'm quite new on the circuit if there is a cancellation with a speaker somewhere else I've been available to jump in and fill the slot.

Monday 8 July 2019

ShireJam 2019 - Scouts

What a full on weekend we've just had.

My eldest daughter and I have been on our first scout camp with our local troop. I've been training up to be a Beaver leader for over a year now and it was time to get all the little ones under canvas as scouts for the first time.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Brushing Up On Bushcraft Skills

This week I've been asked to do a bit of unusual work. 

Carrying some willow for cooking sticks

I've been asked to teach a two hour bush craft lesson to a group of exchange students.

Sunday 30 June 2019

Bathroom Floor Finished

###This is a collaborative post###

I've finally got round to putting down the floor in the bathroom. 

It's amazing how used to the bare plywood we'd become.

To be honest I'd forgotten how much flooring changes a room! It now feels finished after waiting over 12 months! Why did I put it off so long?

In an ideal world we wouldn't have gone for for something more expensive than the end of roll vinyl flooring that we've ended buying from the discount bin, but it's all our budget would stretch to. We would have much rather gone for something like tiles or some high quality  Engineered Wood Flooring.

Thursday 27 June 2019

Mono Cropping Isn't Always A Bad Thing

Now my garden is a diverse place. And not just because it's full of weeds, but because I grow so many types of veg and crops.

The other day though at a talk I was giving some said that I was mono cropping because I tended to grow the same crop in each bed and don't mix. This is true, but generally they're surrounded by different plants in the beds next to them and the beds are only 10ft by 30". 

This did get me thinking though about how people in certain communities seem to make blanket assumptions about how we currently grow crops. The one that I hear a lot is about how mono cropping is a bad thing.

I have to admit that on the surface I completely agree, if we're surrounded by hundreds or thousands of acres of the same crop that is terrible for the local wildlife and it certainly lends itself to sprays and more modern agriculture, but it is a very efficient way of growing food using the current systems that we generally have. Critics don't always have the growing experience to back up their arguments.

I've often read that smaller patches of crops are better and intermixed with other things but there is certainly optimal sizes, as I'm finding out with my small scale grain growing this year. This will vary massively depending on what crop you're growing and how you plan to harvest it. A 10ft bed of beetroot is a good size to grow and harvest, whereas the same size of wheat means that it has to be hand harvested and processed.

As an example I had a huge tub of hull less barley growing on the patio for weeks and weeks. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was stripped by birds in a few minutes. I couldn't help but feel worried about my other little patches I have growing around the garden.

I contacted a grain breeder I follow on Instagram and asked how he deals with pests for these hull less types of grain on a small scale without using nets and other preventative methods. His reply was simple "Safety in numbers, these crops are surrounded by other grains so the predator pressure is spread".

I had issues with my wheat as well, my triple row destroyed in an evening by a hungry rabbit. But I know the same rules would apply here, you have to expect some losses and grow accordingly.

So, although I'm only building my seed bank this year it's already proving quite difficult but I'm hopeful I'll have something to show for it in the autumn (lots of nets needed!). If I do go on to grow some bigger patches of grain in the future I might have to think about what a viable amount would be to allow for losses and to make processing worthwhile, at the moment I doubt it would work in with my current garden bed system.

If you grow grain on a small scale what's the minimum you'd grow?

How do you protect it?
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