This blog is mainly a rambling kind of diary of the transition from smallholderwannabe to smallholder.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We had a lovely day on Wednesday. Some workmen dug through a water main near school so they had to send us all home at lunchtime. Shame :) We went home quick, had lunch and rushed down to the allotment. I did a few jobs and then sat in the sun and watched my husband working. I like work - I could watch it all day. That day was a real treat.

We were down at the allotment this afternoon again and so far, we are on top of the weeds. I'm not sure that we will be able to keep that up but at least the seedlings will be off to a good start. I brought back a nice bag of mixed salad for the rabbits (bit of dandelion, bit of bramble, bit of lemon balm, bit of leaf beet, bit of hawthorn shoots) which they absolutely adored for their dinner. I was given a few seed potatoes and leek seedlings which were surplus to my neighbour's requirements. My son and daughter each have a little veg plot in their gardens and are delighted that I can pass on some of my freebies. I find that people on allotments are very generous.

I called in at my friend's farm yesterday. They have two calves born in the last couple of days - just beautiful. I could not believe how much bouncing around they can do at just a few hours old. The lambs are getting so big now too. I picked a few more nettles as we enjoyed the soup so much.

Off to bed now, so that I can get up early and go to work. I'd rather be down at the allotment or in the fields.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We're having nettle soup for dinner tonight. It is a spring treat - healthy because it is full of vitamins and minerals, cheap because the main ingredient is free, easy to cook and best of all, we really like it. We called in to our friends' farm and raided their nettle patch for the young shoots. Those young lambs have grown amazingly in so short a time.

Back to school. I realise now how much I enjoyed being at home. We achieved quite a lot over the holiday but still had a rest and enjoyed ourselves. And now we're back at the grindstone. Without that grindstone, a smallholding could never become a reality. It is just that I get soooo tired and have no energy left in the evenings for anything else. I hate it when all I seem to do is sleep, get up to go to work, work, come home and do everything needful in order to prepare for work the next day, sleep, get up to go to work, work etc etc.

We went to look at that land for sale. It is an awfully big area (over 40 acres - what would we do with all that, asked my husband) and one end is only about 100 yards from the motorway. That means the air quality will be very poor and not good for my husband's asthma. Still, I'm encouraged by the possibilities of buying land and then building a house. Given the high prices for a smallholding/farm/house with paddock around here then a more DIY approach may be more affordable. But then there is the planning permission problem. Would you get the all important permission? And then, what would you build? As beginners, would we design it right? Anyway, we'll keep our eyes open for more land and see how things progress.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Last day of freedom for a bit. Back to school tomorrow. I haven't got as much done as I had hoped but I do feel that I achieved a fair bit and had a rest too. The allotment is coming along . This year we are really hoping to achieve a bigger harvest. We usually manage to have a reasonable crop but this year I want more - in terms of fresh fruit and veg, fewer food miles AND less money spent.

I've also been watching Edible Garden on Wednesdays on BBC2 - courtesy of iplayer. Alys Fowler from BBC Gardeners World is trying to grow as much of her household's fruit and veg as possible for a the year and the series of 6x30 minute programmes charts her progress. She also has two hens to provide some fresh eggs. She needs three or what is she going to do if she loses one? You can't add in a new hen or two to the old one in her sort of garden situation. Anyway, one of the things she has done so far is to grow pea shoots for salad. She used a packet of marrowfat peas so I've bought myself some to have a go. Last summer I bought a couple of (reduced) bags of salad which had pea shoots in them and loved them. The packet of marrowfat peas cost 24p in Tesco and should give us a crop at about 4p per meal of 2 portions... Add a bit of other lettuce to have a mixed salad - yum. I'm going to plant some mixed salad leaves in a tub by the back door which is the only bit of the garden which ever gets any sun and that only for an hour in the afternoon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We've had another day's hard work. My daughter & co came down to the allotment with us to put up a new-to-us shed that we were given. We had a little shed down there which my husband had created from a load of oddments off several skips back when we first got the allotment. It even had a window frame used as most of one side. (Our shed never got broken into as they could just look in and see all the old stuff we have... ) However, it is now falling apart because too much of it has rotted. So we jumped at the offer of another one, especially as it is bigger. We had a quick lunch after church on Sunday and went to the allotment. We had some slabs that we were given when a friend was redoing their garden that we were able to use them as a base. My husband had gone down on Saturday to dismantle the old shed and bring all the stuff up to the house for now. He also levelled the extra bit of ground needed for the bigger shed. We had a bit of a problem putting up the new shed...... So eight hours later, we went home for tea in the pitch dark. Once you start putting up a new shed, you can't leave it until it is secure or the wind will blow it down. And a few bits needed more repairs than expected. Luckily we had an extra shed side to use for bits of wood to repair the main pieces used. We will need an extra day to sort it all out. And we need to give a day to my daughter to help line the van they have bought to use as a camper. It is incredibly cheaper to fit a van out yourself than to buy one ready done BUT it does rather take up a lot of time.

I've managed to wash just about everything that we might ever wear to work and am well through the ironing. After many trips to charity shops over the years and visits to ebay, I have amassed enough shirts for my husband and stuff for me to last us about three weeks at work. This means that wet weather, illness, frantically busy weekends with church and/or family - can all be survived. It takes the pressure off and given where we shopped, was not expensive at all. But there comes a time when everything seems to be in the ironing pile :(

The new hens seem to be settling in well. I think I am right in thinking that they are very young but time will tell. I think they must have been kept in a barn because they keep disappearing into the henhouse during the day and none of my other hens have ever done that when we first got them. They are already thinking that if I appear, I will have food with me or at least a tidbit. It doesn't take them long to work that out! Their new addition to the run is almost complete. It will fit on the end or just at the end of one side in an ~L~ shape where there is already a door. So it can go in two permutations of shape depending on the ground available. It also means that if one is a bit poorly, she can go in the extra bit with a wire door between her and the rest so that she can be seen and will stay as part of the flock but separate so that she won't be pecked. Hens are lovely creatures but they can be vicious towards both sick hens and newcomers.

We are going for a little trip in the car to look at some land this afternoon. I'm feeling both excited and scared stiff at the same time. It is just land without a house. It is a big enough area that we might be able to put up a good enough case to get planning permission. But what if we bought it and didn't get planning permission? What would we do? Everything (££) I have put aside means that we get one shot at this. If we lose some of the money than we won't have enough to get a second go. But it is in this area so I could still see my family. Houses in this area are expensive so this would be a long-drawn-out but cheaper way of doing things. We could live in this house and still work to pay the loan for building the new house and then sell this one and pay off a substantial part of that loan. But there is still far more land than we would need. Maybe we could sell off part of that to help. The trouble is that you don't know about planning permission until after you've bought the land... So we are going to have a look. It might be in a dreadful place - don't know until you've been to look.

Friday, April 09, 2010

I'm now halfway through the eagerly awaited holiday. I must have blinked and missed a couple of days somewhere. How did we manage to get to the end of the first week already? Days at work never go this fast... There must be lots of truth in the old saying about time flying when you are enjoying yourself.

On Wednesday, we went to Henley poultry auction. It is quite scary. At least I find it so. My husband thinks it all good fun. There were dozens of cockerels all trying to outdo each other in their crowing. There were loads of people, many of them talking. And then there was the auctioneer doing the typical incomprehensible auctioneer-speak. It is really difficult to make out what he says especially with all that noise in the background. Having misheard him last time, I was very careful this time! There were several lots that we were interested in :
  • three lots of a foster mum with a dozen or so chicks. These were so cute and went for silly money. You have no idea if you will manage to raise all the chicks or even how many of them are male and how many are female....
  • several lots of purebred or crossbred traditional breeds - these also went for silly money. Most sold for about the same as buying a vaccinated point-of-lay hybrid. Without knowing something about their history, I'd be loath to spend that sort of money.
  • several lots of young growers (males intended to end up in the oven)

After about 2 hours, we had got through about 100 lots and the growers were still 50 lots further down the row of cages. We just could not bear to wait about another hour or so. There were some little brown hybrids so I bid on those and came home with 7 of them. I paid £10 less per bird than I did for my current layers. I think they are only 6-8 weeks old so they won't come into lay until the end of the summer. Or earlier if they are older than I think. The mixed crew that I have as layers at the moment are not very prolific. I've had them a year now and I expected more eggs during the first year than they have laid. This coming winter, the number of eggs laid will go down and although there will be an extra flurry of eggs next spring, they will lay a steady trickle for a couple of years and that will steadily tail off. I had an empty henhouse and we jiggled the runs around so the new ones have an entirely separate area to themselves. You can't mix established flocks and new ones unless you have oodles of space for them to completely free range because the older ones will peck the new ones dreadfully. Henpecked is reality and can be vicious. Also, the new ones are sort of in quarantine so that if they are infected with something that is not immediately obvious, they cannot pass that on to the others. My husband needs to build an extension to the new ones' run this holiday because they need a bit more space for when they are a little bigger. I had been asking for their run to have an add-on bit so that it could be added on to provide extra space or not depending on circumstances so this is now a priority.

I have lost one of my old Warrens this week so there are now just two of them. They both look like very old ladies and are also a bit lost on their own because they have a very big run. We have cleared the little jungly area at the very end of the garden and moved the two old bantams up there and created a new run for them out of an old enormous pallette/packing crate thing that we were given. It is now covered in chicken wire and does the job fine. It is rather bigger than it sounds and probably would not win any chicken run beauty contests - but it is perfectly serviceable.

So that makes 2 warrens, 2 bantams, 7 in the Motley Crew who are my laying hens (comprising 3 Warrens, 2 Bluebelles, 1 Red Star or maybe she is a Coral and 1 Black Sussex - all different colour and laying different colour eggs, hence "motley") and 7 newbies - 18 hens. I am going to have a bit of a problem when I lose another Warren or bantam - difficult decisions to make there.

Yesterday, we had a lovely day full of hard work but still full of pleasure. My son and his wife are not really experienced gardeners but their house is the fortunate one on the curved row of the terrace and they have the extra garden space. They invited us and my daughter and her husband and my granddaughter round for a "garden party". We turned up in the morning and cleared jungle, had homemade vegetable soup and bread for lunch, hacked more jungle and hedge down and bagged it up and sent my son-in-law to the tip twice with his van full. We stopped at teatime and had baked potatoes and chilli together and talked and had fun for the evening. We left enough bagged up to fill the van for another trip to the tip today - and there is plenty more where that came from :)

Of course, we took turns to play with the baby. Some friends called in to help for an hour and were set to filling sacks as well. We had 3 of those big square builders sand sacks and vast quantities of green sacks. Our council shreds it and composts it all so it is not going to landfill. It is amazing how big their garden is now as the jungle is pretty much gone. There is a hedge on two sides of the garden - laurel at the end which is actually next door's hedge but is (was!) pushing 20 feet high and privet along one side which is only 12-15 foot high. My son is hoping to have a veg patch and some fruit bushes - both to have really fresh fruit and veg with virtually no food miles and to cut the costs.

Some friends of ours rang me up and they came round and joined us for the evening meal and it was great to see them too. They live some distance away and we haven't seen them for several years but they were down this way and asked if they could come and visit after they were finished what they were doing during the day. It was great to see them. They got married one week before us and my husband was best man for them.

It is a lovely sunny day today and I've put an extra load of washing in the machine and I can hear it beeping to say it has finished. I still wash all the small stuff by hand as I've been doing regularly for 15 months now but larger things go in the washer. My weak wrists are not up to wringing larger items as they get really sore. So I do what I can. I reckon I save at least 2 loads in the machine each month and every little helps. Less electricity used and less hot water heated so less gas used too :) And that is better for the planet AND for the smallholderwannabe coffers, so that can't be bad.