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?

Friday, 21 June 2019

Fill A Jar & Cutting Down On Sugar

One thing no one warns you about with having children is all the "parent taxes" that you have to pay. 

Our school is particularly bad for this. Every few weeks there seems to be a non school uniform day with a charitable donation attached. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Bird Feeder For Sale - Is It Sustainable?

As many of you know I make and sell a few items on Etsy.

This has been great for me so far, a great to supplement my income and keep me working from home making items I enjoy making. 

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Cutest Fathers Day Note

My eldest daughter almost made me cry this morning with her lovely note she had written me.

It reads:

"You are the best daddy in the world.
You grow food for us to live.
You buy chickens for eggs and meat.
You helped me choose my glasses.
You help me learn lots of stuff.
If something is poisonous then you say.
You are a great Beaver Teacher.
You cook delicious food especially flapjack.
You are an amazing carpenter, you made the whole entire kitchen.
Lots and lots and lots of love..."

She is always so appreciative of everything and constantly tells us how lucky she is. We're so fortunate to have such lovely humble children.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Royal Three Counties Show 2019

So today I managed to go to a countryside show all by myself. It was BLISS!!!

I've had such a great day at the Three Counties Show. Being on my own meant I could talk to everyone without having a small person tugging at my sleeve, go where I wanted to, when I wanted to! Something I'll have to make sure I don't get used to!

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

What Age Should Children Forage For Food?

When you see the school's number flash up on the phone your heart always sinks. 

"What's happened? Are they all okay?"
 "Erm... It's one of your children, they've eaten something..."

Monday, 10 June 2019

Hellens Garden Festival 2019

We've had another great day at Hellens garden festival. 

It's become an annual trip for our family, we love it and really look forward to it. 

Friday, 7 June 2019

Fighting Slugs - Feed And Fortify

#### This is a collaborative post ####

Normally when I garden I keep a good equilibrium between my plot and nature but this year nature seems to be winning, and by some margin.

Rabbits keep sneaking in and eating from the ground, pigeons devour from above, but my biggest enemy this year is the slugs from below. They are without mercy and seem to have decided that I can have nothing left when I plant out certain crops. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Hellens Garden Festival 2019

It's getting close! It's nearly time for Hellens Garden Festival. 

This has become an annual tradition for us and we love attending every year. There is always so much for the kids to do and there's in such a lovely safe environment.

I'm doing another talk/workshop again this year though so it adds a little pressure!

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Zero Waste Shops

As a family we're always trying to reduce how much waste we produce, from using composting toilets to buying in bulk.

I am pleased that it seems to be getting slightly easier for other consumers to be able to do this without buying in the large bulk quantities that we do. Lately there have been a few plastic free - zero waste shops popping up around the country and we're now lucky enough to have one in our local city of Worcester.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Helpers In The workshop

I love that my work fits around the children and I love that they can sometimes see me making things for customers.

Little helper in the background
 Sometimes they like to come in and watch. The little man especially loves to come in and chat to me as I work.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Bleeding A Digger

Silly mistakes always cost time. 

Normally the sillier the mistake than the longer it takes to sort. Which is what happened today when the digger ran out of fuel.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Small Scale Grain

So my plans for growing some more calories on our smallholding has already hit some setbacks. I had planned to turn the front lawn over to growing some grains and started to grow some grains as plug plants in the green house but unfortunately the mice put pay to that idea. 

Sorting grain - hull less on the left and the ones with hulls on the right

They ate most of my wheat seed and all of the hull less oats that I had when I started them in cells in the greenhouse. I managed to get some hull less barley growing and enough wheat to make a triple row.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Modifying Tools

I was digging some holes with my graft the other day and it got me thinking about how I've altered many of the tools I use over the years. 

When you work with tools regularly you soon learn what works for you and what doesn't. The graft in the photo above is the perfect example of this. When I purchased the spade it had two wings either side to give your foot complete support as you dug. The trouble was when digging tight post holes these "wings" got in the way. I think I'd had the thing for less than a few hours before they got chopped off with the grinder. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Saving Legumes For HSL

I love being a member of the HSL as it gives me great access to seeds that I might not otherwise be able to get hold of. And if you've read much of this blog you'll know I'm slightly obsessed by seeds! It's also a great way to support these rare seeds to save them going extinct.

Each year you get to pick out six packets of seed from their list to try. The idea is that you get the seed to grow but with the aim of saving enough seed to send back so it can be looked after and sent out to it's members the following year. Keeping the seeds growing and in production is the best way of keeping them alive and away from becoming extinct.

Generally the numbers they send you are fine. Half a dozen tomato seeds is plenty to grow, taste and save the seed from, the same with a few dozen lettuce seeds. The only problems come when it comes to legumes.

Peas and french beans are easy to save the seeds from and there are lots of old varieties out there so they feature quite highly on HSL lists. The downside comes from how many they send you. I think this year I had 10 french bean seeds and 10 each of the two types of peas.

Now I completely understand why this is, it's rare seed and I should guess that a fair amount of the stuff sent out doesn't get saved and sent back to the HSL. But what it does mean is that for me legumes from them has become a two year project if I want to share the seed with friends and return any.

The first year will be to germinate and grow them on to produce plenty of beans or peas so that I can then grow a good amount of the following year. The following years crop can then be eaten and saved, distributed at our seed swap and sent back to the HSL, a great way of keeping these varieties out there!

Hopefully what we get from them will be worth it. the one dwarf french bean I've got from them has the following description "This black seeded French heirloom variety produces compact, bushy plants that display both drought and cold tolerance. Dark lilac flowers are followed by pencil pods; crisp and tasty when eaten whole and as podded green beans. When dried the beans have a lovely nutty flavour, and are particularly good for use in Mexican and Cuban recipes. Sow to harvest 85 days (approx.) "

This sounds just perfect for a veg for me, especially the bit about showing some cold and drought tolerance, just the type of thing that is needed on a system where you're trying to reduce inputs and get earlier harvests. I wonder how many seeds I'll get from my original 10?

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Left Overs Pasty & A Picnic!

I love left overs. Nothing gets me hungrier than thinking about frying up some bubble and squeak to have with some cold meat and pickles on a Monday night.

The other day though we had some chicken left over from a roast and a particularly bad bank holiday weekend where my two youngest children and I were pretty ill. We had planned to go for a walk as a family but it just never happened.

So instead I thought we'd go for an after school picnic when my wife got home from work. I decided that we'd need some thing pretty portable but I knew they'd all still need a hot meal inside them! A good old pasty was my thinking!

Simple pastry with flour, salt, lard, butter and water

This is where I also have to make a confession - I haven't made pastry since I left school so well over 20 years ago. But it was surprisingly easy (once I brought some lard). I made it at lunch time and let it rest until I could have at least one helper make the pasties.

The filling was the left over chicken with added potatoes, onions and carrots.

My eldest helped me make them and was far more optimistic than I was about how they'd turn out.

They were ready just as my wife got home, so I wrapped them in foil and a tea towel, packed up some plates, cups, cake and an empty bottle we could fill at a spring.

I did make everyone walk for a good mile once we'd parked up, but the views were more than worth it.

It was a fun tea time although not perfect as these things never are. My boy refused to eat them and someone (not going to name names) needed help to do a wild wee and peed all over my hand. I wouldn't have minded so much if I had finished my cake by then! The cake was a beautiful lemon cake my wife had made with the children the day before.

A lovely evening and a great picnic!

Friday, 10 May 2019


Growing up the tool below was used a lot on the farm.
It was used for chucking the silage to the sheep, as well as wads of hay and straw. With it's long handle it meant that they could be chucked quite far and dad would soon put what he needed in each pen with a quick swing of his arms.

He called it a pikel and until the other day I've never questioned that name! But apparently that is a really regional word to Shropshire, the county both he and I grew up in. 

So my question to you all is what would you call this tool?

And is there regional names for tools that you use that no one else has heard of?

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Legumes For Self-Sufficiency

If you were having to grow enough to feed yourself then I think one of the most important crops would be legumes. There are certainly others that are just as important, but these would be pretty high up the list.

Start them young - few jobs make me happier than sowing beans with little people!
Basically you can always find either peas or beans that will grow well in your climate and location. Some are better for drought, some over winter providing cover, some crop early, some are great in pots and containers, some good for storage, some good for fresh use, etc.

They are also a plant that provides a reliable and predictable harvest. Very important when working out the quantities that you'd need to feed you and your family. They also require less in the way of inputs than some other crops.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Meat Rabbits

So this is something I've been giving a lot of thought to over the last few years. 

I almost did it a few years ago before we rented the land next door. But then came the sheep and our meat supply was sorted. Although it only happened once a year.

Since selling them I've been thinking about ways to replace that.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

8 Types of Pea Growing This Year (so far)

I think my love of legumes has got out of hand. I had a count up and I realised I've so far got 8 types of pea growing so far this year. To be honest it should have been ten but the first one didn't come up (mice).

The one set of peas that failed was just a standard podding type called Onward.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Early May Update

As usual this is a really busy time of year. Seeds to sow, plants to put out and veg to maintain and grow.

I love this time of year, so much to remember to do but it really sets the pace for the rest of the year, hopefully ours will be full of goodies.

The kids have been a great help with all this. Not helping all the time but really entertaining themselves and letting me get on with things.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

5 Tips to Enjoying Being a Stay At Home Dad

I was reading a thread on Facebook the other day where a lady was saying her husband was a Stay At Home Dad (SAHD) and often felt alienated at toddler groups and ignored on the school run and people said to her that she was heartless for going back to work and he's not a real man because he's at home with the kids.

Well my experience of it has been completely different! I've enjoyed nearly all of it (there have been some dark times as well though - mainly involving poo...).

So I thought I'd write a post to any potential Stay At Home Dad's out there on how to make the most of it.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Strawberry Beds

Although I've moved the main soft fruit garden into a new place, the area left behind is a great place for growing with full sun. 

So down there I've divided it up into 11 new beds plus a bed for the rhubarb and some herbs (sweet cicely). One thing I was keen to get into the new beds was some strawberries.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Infrastructure Work - Security Gate

Last year I did some work for someone and as part of the deal I got to take away some security gates before the place was demolished. I had no idea what I'd do with the gates at the time but I knew they'd be handy somewhere!

Removing the gates and cutting off the posts. Major downside was I killed my generator in the process! Doh!
It was only when I installed the field gates the other day that I realised it made the place feel much more cut off and safer for the children. I decided that one more gate by the workshop would mean that to get into our area of play/work you'd need to either open or climb a gate.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Cob Oven

We were lucky enough to be invited to a friend's for tea the other night.

They cooked some amazing pizza in this cob oven they had built themselves as a family.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Homestead Shop

A bit of shameless self promotion on this post for my products I'm starting to sell online.

I started making some homestead and garden related products to sell after my mother got me to make a wooden potting tray because she could only find plastic ones online or in the shops to buy.

Wooden Potting Tray

When these started to sell well I decided to make a range of products that should hopefully make jobs easier, be nice to use and look good.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Least Number Of Animals Since 2012

I realised the other day that we currently have the least number of animals we've ever had in the last seven years. 

We're down to four laying hens and a little chick I hatched at the local school who they named "Gary".

Monday, 15 April 2019

Home Butchery

Like many skills I think butchery is one you can only really learn through doing. 

Last week I butchered four more lambs and as I get into double figures now (total) I'm getting a little faster and more confidant in what I'm doing.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Dress For The Job You Want...

Whilst putting manure onto some veg beds the other day my daughter's came to help and I couldn't help but laugh at what they consider farming attire.

Dress for the job you want and all that...

Friday, 5 April 2019

Permaculture Soft Fruit?

I've been toying with an idea in my head for a few years now and wanted to experiment.

I garden with many different methods and never really stick to one, but if you're into organic gardening then sooner or later you're going to come across permaculture.

The wikipidia definition of permaculture is:-
"Permaculture is a set of design principles centered around whole systems thinking simulating or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields from regenerative agriculture, rewilding, community, and organizational design and development."

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

New Growing Areas Created

Well not completely new it must be said.

I'm going to show you all a picture of what was my soft fruit garden and you have to promise not to laugh!

ARGH! You promised!

This is my not so little corner of shame in my veg garden. It's a real shame because the veg garden, with it's 32 even beds and cordon apple trees down the side is looking pretty good these days, then as you get to the bottom you see this overgrown mess.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Infrastructure Work - More Gates

At the top of our land, runs a footpath. Generally this is a positive thing, as most people are friendly and nice. But in the past we have had issues with dog walkers dogs attacking chickens or just running onto our land and juumping up on the children. 

It seems very few read the "keep your dog on a lead" sign.

So a number of years ago (2014) I planted a hedge across the top to give a wide access to a tractor but to also separate the footpath off. This has given us loads more privacy and made things much better.

Like all good jobs though, I hadn't finished it!

Monday, 25 March 2019

Children Imitate

Our children often imitate us, it's how they learn. 

Sometimes I worry about what they'll learn from me, it's impossible to be how you want to be around these little people all the time. When I loose my temper or shout I often wonder what they have just learnt or how I could have handled the situation better.  

Days later I might hear them use a phrase and think to myself that's not what I want them saying or thinking. 

But then there are times when I think that they see and copy something really positive.

This morning is a perfect example of that. I help run our local playgroup on a Monday, my son comes along and helps set up and pack away whilst playing with his friends. Part of the routine is we put out snack for the children and then they all sit round and whilst they're eating I read them a story that I bring along.

I love being a man in a playgroup like this, I think it's great for the kids to see a man doing this role and also I love reading children a story (I'm strict on the parents and don't allow talking either!)

But when I finished today I went to take something back to the kitchen and when I came back my son was sat on my chair, in front of all the children, with a story book that we was "reading" to them all.

I was so proud of him, my heart melted a little bit! Such a strong little character, I know he'll go far.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Making Presents

Presents are always something I struggle with. I'm terrible really. I leave everything to the last minute and then can never come up with a good idea in time. 

With my wife's birthday approaching I decided to do an idea I'd had for ages.

For the first time in what seems like a long while I was going to make her a present!

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Unfinished Plumbing

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

We live in an unfinished house and I fear it may be like that for sometime... 
Nice place for a bath...

The cobbler’s children go barefoot and all that…

I’m not too bothered about it (although my wife might think otherwise), and I am slowly working my way through the list of jobs. Although the list does tend to get longer rather than shorter.

Monday, 18 March 2019

New Workshop Roof

As I mentioned in my last blog post, the workshop roof has been leaking for weeks now and has been slowly driving me mad.

It only seems to drip when I'm stood under it, and then it only hits my neck! But seriously it needed sorting before something bad happened and water got into the wiring or wrecked my tools.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

False Spring

The warm spell of weather we had a few weeks ago lured everyone into a thinking that spring had arrived, but it seems we're a long way from it yet with the weather we've been having this week. 

But I love this time of year and all the prep that goes into the spring that's just around the corner. Everything is just getting ready to burst!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

World Book Day

Today is world book day and there has become a tradition across schools where the children dress as their favourite character or person from a book they love. 

I think our girls saw this as a challenge. No one would be guessing who they were! They decided who they were going to be with no input from us! We might have gone with people a little more mainstream. 

Monday, 4 March 2019

Young Crafter

If you read this blog then no doubt you'll have worked put that we're a practical family. 

Both side of the family are practical, On my side my father is a farmer and an agriculture engineer, my mother was a flower arranger but is also trained in soft furnishings and does many other crafts, my sister designs fabric and wallpaper for a living and my brother is a tree surgeon. 
On my wife's side her father is a mechanic, her mother and grandmother are both amazing knitters and her brother is a car sprayer. 

So it's no wonder that our children seem drawn to anything practical or craft based. 

Sewing is certainly one that has grabbed my eldest daughter attention. She is fascinated by it. She loves anyone spending time with her showing her how to make something and picks up the skills really quickly. If any clothes break or tear she is the first to say she'll fix it!

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Garden Tool Organisation

The weather has been amazing this week so I've been spending as much time outside as possible. 

I've even managed to dry some washing on the line!

My workshop and carpentry tools are pretty well organised. I know where everything is in my workshop, other than a pencil or tape measure which I can never find when I put them down! Everything has it's place and has somewhere to go where it's protected from damage. In this way I can also see if something is missing.

Cut to the garden and it's a different story. My garden tools haven't exactly been looked after over the years. When the weeds are running wild its hard to even find where I've left them at times! Although it pains me to admit that...

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