Tuesday, 19 October 2021

An 8 Year Olds Party

 My Middlest is 8 years old now! Can't quite believe it (I know it's a cliché thing to say).

She was sweet for what she wanted for her party, just a few friends, pizzas in the new oven and some Taskmaster tasks! 

If you've never watched Taskmaster it's a great show where a group of comedians have tackle different challenges. Ever since they've done a PG version we've watched it with the children and it's become a firm favourite, it really makes them think outside the box. I set up a selection of tasks outside (even got some red sealing wax to seal the tasks) and let the children have a great time tackling them! 

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Garden Club Talks - Back Up & Running

 It seems that garden club talks are back up and running - this is great news for me as it makes up some of my income and it's something I really enjoy doing. 

I've done quite a few over the last few months, one in a WI in my own village, which I thought was particularly brave of me - especially as it was on preserving!

Last night I drove to Bream in the Forest of Dean to give a talk and had a really enjoyable evening giving a talk (although my wife and I were like ships passing in the night, a kiss on the doorstep as I headed out and she headed in). their garden club has been running for an incredible 156 years!

I got some lovely feedback which I thought I'd share with you from their facebook page:

Jennifer Lang - "Kev Alviti of An English Homestead was our speaker last night. He is a stay-at home dad/part-time carpenter. His wife works full time and they have three children. They have 52 veg beds, chickens, an orchard and a coppice. What an interesting and informative evening it proved to be. This is definitely “The Good Life” in action, though one that actually works. Kev is knowledgeable about all types of preserving and proved to be a very enthusiastic and entertaining speaker. It was great to hear his children are being taught to process food, which will be very useful to them throughout their lives. Hard to believe two girls under the age of 10 can pluck, dress and freeze pack chickens so efficiently and love doing it. I was reminded of all those old American films which showed the whole family being involved in homesteading. Kev has a website you will find interesting englishhomestead.com This is the place to visit if you want to learn more. For those who couldn’t come, you missed a great evening."



Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Earth Oven part 5 - Building And Drying

 It feels like this project is nearly there now. Still quite a bit to do. 


We built the sand former and covered it in a good layer of mud. I then got brave and a few days later I took the sand out and had a little firing to start curing it. I plan to do another post on this soon, but I'm going to write a magazine article as a how to first.

the children were so proud when we fired it up. I wored well to the weather and managed to build a shelter around it before all this bad weather we've been having. Good job as well, I thin it might have washed away otherwise. The shelter was built from reclaimed materials and I got it up in a day. 

Thursday, 30 September 2021

Damsons

I was lucky enough to be at my friends the other day and snuffle some damsons - one of my favourite fruits! 

We all love their tart sweetness here so the kids were excited to eat some as well. 

Monday, 27 September 2021

Small Batch Preserving Is The Way Forward

 I love just canning a few jars of fruit on an evening, often when writing in the kitchen. 


I know I've said it so many times before but doing it like this, little and often, really does fill up the pantry! 

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Baking Before School

Sometimes I get silly ideas in my head - like making bread before school! 

To  be fair it was only the dough that they were making. An enriched one to make apple buns for a bake sale at school.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Brick Arch Former

 It's not been dry enough to do much on the cob oven, it needs more time to dry out (although I have done more since the last post).


So my eldest daughter and I decided to make a wooden former for the arch over the entrance, a nice simple project we could do together. 

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Blighted Tomatoes - Green tomato Ketchup

We've avoided blight the last few years here, but this summer when we got back from holiday it was waiting for us. 

The girls and their mum ripped out most of the plants and seperated up the tomatoes into ones that would ripen and ones to use green, then they sat there staring at me until I did something with them. 

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

The Base - Earth Oven Part 4

Although we had some cob bricks made we had nowhere to put them!


I had dug out an area and filled it with hardcore but as I knew the oven would weigh a fair bit I decided to use some concrete here - hopefully the only bit. I lined the bottom of the footing with some left over plastic from our polytunnel and made a frame out of some left over fencing timber from earlier in the year. 

Monday, 6 September 2021

Cob Party - 12 Children And Lots Of Mud - Earth Oven Part 3

 I'm a big fan of learning through doing - I'm very much a kinesthetic learner. So the idea of making this earth oven harder for myself doesn't really phase me. Maybe it should though. But I've decided to make the base out of cob as well! 

Then the other day a couple of friends were struggling with childcare (school hasn't started back yet but lots of holiday clubs are already finished), so I said I'd take them all in. And, with my wife, my friend adn her 4 children said they'd come over for a bit of fun.


So at it's peak we had 12 children here for a bit of cob making! The base wasn't ready so it was just for learning to use the materials. 

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Apple Cinnamon Buns

Last weekend we went to a food festival in Oxford. The whole day was really great, and a particular highlight was one of the talks I managed to sneak off to without the children. 


 It was with a man who has a company called "Bake with Jack", apparently he's on the TV but I've never seen him (not that I watch huge amounts these days so that's nothing to go by). 

He did a demo where he made some apple cinnamon buns, he was a great speaker, really engaging and funny. I also picked up quite a few tips with baking. 

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Trouble With My Damson Trees

 So if you have read this blog for any length of time you'll know that I love damsons. When ripe they're up there with some of my favourite fruits. One reason why I put about another 14 in this year in our new hedge in the second field. 


Unfortunately, other than the one in the photo above (a Merryweather - my favourite as it is a "freestone" damson), the others don't seem to be doing so well in the orchard that I planted 8 years ago

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Yellow Egg Plums Don't Grow True From Seed

When we lived around Evesham someone once told me that yellow egg plums grow true from seed. That's one of the reasons there are so many around that area, they'd often grow them around the outside of the market gardens as an extra cash crop. 

Well even though I know the science of why it shouldn't be true I took a punt and dug up a seedling from mum and dads farm. I planted it about 8 years ago. 


Sunday, 29 August 2021

New Quay To Aberaeron Walk

Always on the look out for mini adventures with the children, we decided that even though the weather looked a bit iffy (like 80% chance of rain at lunch time) we would go for a nice long walk. 

The route to Aberaeron from where we were staying in New Quay looked nice and we knew we could get a bus easily back at the end of it. 

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Pottery Throw Down On Holiday!

We go to the same place on holiday every year at the moment and absolutely love it. We go to the little town of New Quay in Wales, it has beautiful beaches, rock pools and doesn't get too busy. 

I'm very aware that I want to keep it interesting for the children (and for us adults as well) so always looking for something different to try. 

The children have a few programmes they love on the telly, Bake off, Sewing Bee and Pottery Throw Down. These are all crafts and activities we try to do at home. With the pottery I often buy a big bag of air dried clay and let them make items, or watch a video on how to make something and set them to it - but the children have often mentioned how they would like to have a go at a potters wheel to really let their creativity out! 

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Team Freezer Prep

 The other night, while I was making tea I picked half a bucketful of French beans. With a quick shout to the living room two helpers appeared to help me prep them (the eldest went off to pick tomatoes). 

 


In fact I didn't do any of the French beans, instead leaving the youngest two to top and tail them, then weigh them out into freezer bags for use later in the year. 

As well as leaving us enough out to steam to have with one of our beautifully roasted Indian Game hens and rice. 

They love helping put food down for winter - good job as well otherwise it can get a bit overwhelming! 

Anyone else make use of their helpers when it comes to food prep?

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Mechanical Thinking

 It's funny, my dad always sees me as non mechanical, mainly because I chose to work with wood rather than metal. But, looking back, I'm always fixing machines or maintaining them, changing batteries or topping stuff up, there is always something breaking and although I do phone dad for advice I quite often get things going again myself. 


My little old blue digger is a good case in this one, I've bled it numerous times when there has been problems with the fuel line, replaced pipes, and now dealt with the track coming off. 

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Frist Failed Cob Oven! - Earth Oven Part 2

Once we got to grips with the cob as a building material and found a better way to mix it (Using the paddle mixer I use to mix plaster and plaster board adhesive) we set about making a test oven. 
This was just to be a test oven and see if we could get the materials to work for us. 

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Chicken Butchery - Indian Game

Obviously this post contains pictures of dead animals so please don't read if that kind of thing upsets you. 

I had planned to process a batch of Indian Game chickens for the freezer this week. I was then disappointed when I found out that the day I had planned to do it the children were going for a sleep over at my mum and dads. 

This is how far things have come with the children, it's so much easier with them that I now plan to do it so they can help. So I made sure we all got up early that morning and got cracking before they had to go!

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Messing About With Cob - Earth Oven Part 1

 For a long time now I've been saying how much I'd like to build an earth oven. The trouble with saying it lots, that doesn't mean it happens! 


So yesterday each of the children had asked to do something with me (eldest wanted to do green woodwork, middlest wanted to use my pyro pen to burn some pictures onto wood and the youngest wanted to carve some dinosaurs) So I thought maybe we should do something we can all be involved with. 

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Canned British Apricots

 I've been teaching a friend preserving and this week we got to can some apricots!


I just realised I didn't do a post about the cherries they grow so will have to do one soon, but these guys are expert fruit growers and as well as growing cherries they also grow apricots. But some of these had proved to be a bit like avocados to ripen. They were either on the tree hard as bullets or on the floor. For me it was a massive first, I don't think I've had many British Apricots let alone seen enough to do some preserving with! 

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Odd Drawer Unit Painted

 I didn't realise that I never got round to adding a picture of the finished Odd Drawer Unit I got commissioned to make from my mum last year. 

So here it is in mums sewing/craft room in all it's glory, with the wonky walls that surround it! 

I love seeing things I make in use and this one is full to the brim! It took a bit of making and messing about with but it was a project I enjoyed. You can watch the video of how I made it here. 

What do you think? Like it or not a practical use of space?

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

12 Years Married

12 years ago this weekend we got married (together 20 now)! Over half my life with her and I still can't quite believe how lucky I am that she puts up with me and what wonderful mother and wife she is. Had a wonderful day at Cotwold Wildlife Park to celebrate!

Life is good.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Dehydrated Gooseberries

The other night my younger daughter came wondering up from the garden without her skirt on. 
She'd taken it off to carry all the gooseberries that she had picked from the one huge gooseberry bush we've got that's producing (we have ten young bushes that aren't quite there yet). 


 I thought that was using her head, but also thankful that the neighbours couldn't see! 

When I planted a lot of soft fruit last year a big part of it was thinking about more dehydrated fruit. I love having it on my breakfast and last years damsons and plums has been incredible and so full of sharp flavour.

So I'd planted 10 gooseberry bushes without really checking to see if they dehydrate very well! Luckily this little experiment confirmed what I thought - they are awesome. After 24 hours at 57 degrees they came out every so slightly chewy and tasting like one of the best sour sweets you've ever eaten. They're almost too sour, but you have to go back for more! 

I imagine in my breakfast these are going to taste ace! 

While the dehydrator was on I also did about 4 trays of cherries and one with some bananas that were going over. 

Anyone else dehydrate gooseberries? What's your favourite dried fruit/treat? 

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Everything is Breaking!

 Argh, it's been one of those weeks! 

Frist the fridge freezer decides to pack up. We;ve had it just a little over 2 and a half years, guess how long the warranty is?

Yep, 2 years. It's a large American style fridge freezer and was about £700, a replacement cost we could do without! It wasn't totally broken though, things at the bottom were frozen (both sides) and at the top was about 17 degrees. 

I decided to do some googling of common faults and then set to work with a multimeter to see if I could find a fault. Luckily I did!

The fan at the back of the freezer used to make a noise at times, and no longer was. So when I tested it and no voltage could get through this bit I thought I'd found the problem. 

Unfortunately the part number on the fan didn't match with anything, so I had to order one that looked like the right part! Risky at 45 quid, as it could be throwing good money after bad. 

Luckily when it turned up, I changed out the old unit and by the end of the day the fridge freezer was acting normally again. I'd honestly be willing to pay a lot more for appliances if they'd just last a bit longer. Imagaine this going to landfill for the want of a fan!

Then I flooded my boys room out by leaving a valve open. A silly mistake and one I won't be making again! 

Thirdly my (very expensive) sander broke this week. Again I was annoyed, but could soon see what had broken luckily. I ordered the part at 1pm on Friday and had the new bit by 11AM on Saturday! Talk about good service!

This tool gets used a lot and has a hard life so I'm not mad that it broke in the first place, being used for hours at a time can't be easy on something like this. 


Replaced it and now working fine and will hopefully provide many more years of service! 

Anyone else been fixing things lately?

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

A Lesson Learned The Hard Way

 It's worth popping over to my other blog to see what I did here.


But lets just say I'm very annoyed at myself and felt like quite the fool for quite a while. A lesson learned the hard way, especially as it's all carved by hand! Full blog post here. 

Anyone else made a mistake like this?

Monday, 12 July 2021

Garlic Harvest

Every day last week the boy was asking me when we were going to harvest our garlic. He had even taken to carrying some garlic around in his pocket as he wanted to plant it! 
I didn't want to do it without him so waited until the weekend when we could dig it up together. 

Monday, 5 July 2021

Purple Pea Water

The toehr night I had quite the shock when I took the steamer off the top of the potatoes!


 It was like I was cooking them in ink! 

Above the potatoes I was steaming both Victorian Purple podded peas (but as mange tout) and some broad bean tops (easily one of the most underrated veg out there), both of which must have imparted some of their colour into the water. 

I used to work with a Bulgarian guy who used to moan about how the English cook. 

He used to ask "Why do you chuck the water away? All the Goodness there." 

Then he'd eat the water from his boiled runner beans like a soup as a starter. I think he was probably on to something. 

Other than making gravy from this water though I'm not sure what else to do with it? I suppose it could be saved as a light stock for a soup? 

Do you save the cooking liquid from things you cook?

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Jelly Bag Stand

 A while back I wrote an article for an online friend, Rosie who has a brilliant website for preserving. While we were chatting she asked if I'd be willing to make some items for her to sell as it can be hard finding people to make specific things. 


The item in question was some jelly bag stands, made from wood that could be easily assembled. 


I really like it when small businesses can work together so it was really nice to be able to make these things for Rosie and I hope they sell well for her. you can find the listing on her website here and the rather fetching picture of me!

It's always nice to tie two of my passions together and this certainly does that! 

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Hand Clipping Sheep

It's been a while since sheep have featured on the blog and I should say that these aren't mine! 
 

Some smallholder friends were struggling to get anyone to shear their sheep. The trouble is they only have 5 pet sheep. I lent them some hand sheers but I think a mixture of worry and lack of experience put them off. 

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Larder Unit

Yesterday we visited my brother and sister-in-laws place for the first time in ages. It was to meet their new baby (A tiny baby girl) and was lovely to chat and catch up. 


It was great to see the kitchen I built from scratch in use and full of produce! It was a monster of a unit with huge doors and drawers.


The can rotators inside the unit are available via my Esty store or you can email me if you'd like any!

I think they picked a great colour and the whole kitchen really seems to work with the central island. I've asked them to send me some pictures of the whole thing when they get chance so I can share it on here.  

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Hellen's Garden Festival 2021

 We look forward to this weekend every year since we first went in 2016.


They asked me to do a talk again this year and luckily for me it was at 12 O'clock which meant that it was out of the way early on and I could then just relax and enjoy my day once it was over. When I'm doing lots of garden club talks I don't get nervous, but it's been well over a year since my last one. 

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Time for an upgrade - Austrian Scythe

 So for a long time now I've been thinking about upgrading my scythe. 

This owes me nothing, but its not the easiest to use

I have an old English one, and although it's great for knocking down a few nettles it is quite heavy to use for a long period of time and I've never managed to cut grass in a tidy way with it. Probably as I'm a good six inches taller than whoever had it before me! 

Time to buy a different one.  

Monday, 31 May 2021

Amazing Nettle Beer!

 Now I know I try a lot of different things, some work, many don't and some are terrible. But occasionally you come across one that is out of this world good. This is one of them! 


I mentioned on twitter that I fancied trying to make some nettle beer and a twitter friend sent me a screenshot of a recipe his dad used to use.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Polytunnel Planted Up (nearly)

 This year I'm trying to go for lower effort in the veg garden. I want a year to get on top of the weeds, they're really taking hold in some beds and having imported bindweed (unwittingly) I need to do something to stop their advance. So I've sheeted over a few outside beds and will sow some green manure on others. 


I'll still grow loads of beans, peas, sweet corn and squash, but might not go to my usual levels this year. 

The same is true in the polytunnel.

 Last year I enjoyed having loads of different crops in there, but we've gone for easy productivity this year. I've covered the beds in black plastic, to keep the weeds at bay and to help retain moisture. The plastic in the rest of my garden has been in use for years now and is still looking good. I didn't buy any more in, just used what I have. 

I've gone for just a few crops in there, all with similar spacings. Tomatoes down both sides, 51 plants in total, then some melons, about 16 cucumber/gherkin plants and about 10 ground cherry plants. So not the sheer number of different plants this year, but with the automatic watering, easy weed control and a good trellis system that I've wired up I'm hoping the hardest bit will be deciding what to do with all the tomatoes! 

There's about 20 types in there as well as some grafted ones I bought in. I'm really pleased with the plants I grew from seed and love their root system. I have also got 5 "storage" type tomatoes that are supposed to harvest on the vine and eat as they ripen up to Christmas. 

I think the two greenhouses will have a year without tomatoes because of the sheer number of them in the polytunnel, I plan to fill this with cucamelons, and maybe try to grow some strawberries in there - or at least get some plants strong enough to grow well next year (I never do well with strawberries). 

Anyone else go their undercover growing sorted in this terrible spring we're having?

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Face To Face Scouts Again!

Beavers was great fun last week, great to meet up with them again. We did outside cooking in small groups with multiple fires -I manned the marshmallows, but here was also one doing popcorn and one doing hot chocolate. These young scouts loved it & it felt like proper scouting again. All three of our children have to go, my lad will have been a scout for years before he even joins!


I then went on to help older scouts . We met up in a small wood on the Malvern Hills, with a small camp fire burning, helping to show them how to prepare a chicken, all keen to have a go - unfortunately I couldn't come up with a rabbit, I only got told a few nights before and the hunting gods weren't smiling on me!

Anyone who ever "worries about the youth of today" need to go give a bit of their time to the scouts, or just young people in general, I guarantee it'll put your mind at ease.

Were you a scout? What was your favourite memory?

A Baking Lesson Learnt!

Baking night again on Wednesday.


I tend to leave the children to it, popping in &out doing other jobs, there to help them if they need it but to encourage them to be as independent as possible with their baking and they always try to get a few bakes on the go at once!


They all learnt important lessons that night though - always read the instructions!


Turns out a (heaped) tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda is a lot more than teaspoon! The lovely looking cookie bake nearly made us all puke as we spat it out, running to the bin! I think this bake will go down in family history! Good job we had meringues to take the taste away!

What's the worst baking mistake you've made?

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Carving Photo

I got my daughter to take a couple of photos the other day when I carving, I needed a few with both of my hands in the shot for a magazine article I'm writing. She also took the one below, and unusually I quite like the photo of me so I thought I'd share it. 

I feel lucky I enjoy my time in my workshop working so much, and I get to make many interesting things, it's always changing and challenging. I know that in a few years what I do will probably have evolved even more and be something completely different, but for now I'll enjoy what it is. 



And I feel fortunate that my children can see me do it, spend time with me while I do it, it's lovely to hear them play outside while I'm in there. 

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Broody Hens

Argh! Like buses, broody hens always seem to come at once. The irony of these four hens from my breeding pen of four Indian Game hens is that if they're all broody none of them are laying any eggs! 


 Also not sure sure the nest box can take them all in there at the same time! It must get pretty warm.

With broody hens I tend to leave them pretty much alone but I do chuck them off the nest once a day, I even do this when they're sitting on eggs, as they sometimes won't look after themselves by feeding and drinking properly. Also lets them do a big poo away from the nest - which is a good way to help keep things clean. 

Anyone else have too many broody hens at the moment?

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Green Manure In The Polytunnel

A month or so ago I sowed some mustard seed in the polytunnel.  

The idea being that it would be a quick green manure crop and maybe take the edge off the duck manure that had been "laid" their while the winters avian flu lockdown took place. 


 It's nearly time to plant the tomatoes and cucumbers out in the tunnel, so my thinking now is to just chop and drop this and cover with plastic.

Anyone have experience doing this? I'd rather not dig it over if I could help it! Maybe I'll add some well rotted manure on top as well. 

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