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

Monday, May 31, 2010

It was my husband's birthday yesterday and most of the family gathered for a meal. Some are away on holiday but they rang up and had a chat with him. Sometimes it is just lovely to gather as a family and chat and eat together. As the majority of the people who came are vegetarians, I made the Shepherdless Pie from the Cheap Family Recipes website that I've mentioned before: It went down very well although I topped it with mashed potato rather then sliced because there was an element of uncertainty about the start time of the meal and I thought mash would keep in the oven better. I didn't say that it was an economical recipe but just served it and got compliments :) My little grandson who is nearly 10 months old absolutely loved it and wolfed down two bowlfuls. In fact, his parents asked to take some leftovers home for his lunch today. I can see that recipe appearing on their menu in future. My daughter had brought pudding (raspberry and apple pie - guaranteed father pleaser!) and homemade elderflower champagne and my son had baked a birthday cake.

After dinner we chatted for a bit and then went for a walk together - calling by the allotment on the way so that we could water the seedlings and beans and also those of my friend on her neighbouring allotment as she is away on holiday this week. Many hands make light work. The cash-strapped city council have recently created a "nature walk" from a piece of waste ground near us so we went and walked around to see what there is to see. It is still a work in progress but they have laid a grid of allweather paths and it was fun to go round together. Then we came back for tea. I had popped some scones in the oven after the pie came out and we put a quick loaf in the breadmaker to cook while we were out so we had fresh bread and then homemade scones and homemade strawberry and gooseberry jam with Cornish clotted cream for tea. The cream was a birthday treat for a Devon boy who prefers Cornish clotted cream to Devon clotted cream. We had just got to the blowing out of the candles on the cake - a token number of candles only because we didn't want to set the cake on fire... :) - when a friend called in and stayed to chat with everybody and eat cake.

It was a lovely day. Today we are going to a church bbq and I need to make something to take with us. It is a "bring something and we'll all share" kind of bbq but I need to make something because it could be quite expensive otherwise. Maybe some bean burgers...?

Tomorrow we need to get up early to get the car to a garage. It is showing a few poorly symptoms and needs a diagnostic run on it to find which electronic gismo needs to be replaced. I can remember the days when you could mend the car yourself. Now you need a computer to find the fault and you just chuck out some large and expensive part and slot in a new large and even more expensive one. Ah well.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Half term!!! Yayyyyy!!!!!!

All seven of my new little hens are now laying. Twice this week we have had 7 eggs from them and they keep running to me and are quite happy to be picked up. I love it when they run to and not from me. If they are happy to be handled then it is so much easier if you have to do anything like treat them with medication or whatever. Hens are so soft. Their feathers don't feel at all like the gulls' feathers you pick up on the beach which is what I find most city dwellers think. I took 4 boxes of eggs into work yesterday again and after I had sold them, was asked for more. I have a second career here looming :) Here comes the egg lady... The eggs are small and lots have little freckles on them - very pretty. They are definitely getting larger by the day but nothing like the size laid by the older ones yet.

The sun has come out and it has stopped raining so I'm going to nip out and give them some corn quick before it starts raining again.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I think all 7 of my new little hens are laying now but only 6 of them on any given day. Now that we have a little spell of warmer weather for a few days, the older hens are laying better. Or maybe they are trying to keep up with the new little Joneses in the neighbouring run :) The older ones' laying seems to be more bound to the temperature and weather conditions than any of the other hens that we have ever had. Anyway, I took 4 boxes of 6 eggs into work on Friday and sold them all - so that will help towards the feed bill.

My husband went to the allotment to catch up a bit. I stayed home and did a few jobs, like mending and sewing buttons on. I get prickly heat quite badly so I tend to hide when there is full sun, discretion being the better part of valour.

I've got hay drying in the garden. My son cut an area of his garden with shears because it was too long for the mower (15 inches-ish ) and being kind, he dropped it off to me when he was passing. The sun has been so hot this week that it is just about dried and I can store it in paper feed sacks for the rabbits to have next winter. Not to be outdone, when I saw my daughter, she gave me their grass mowings. It is all nice, small stuff from young grass and it is spread out and almost dry too. That gets used for the bottom of the rabbits' hutches. I'd use a bit for the hens' runs as well but I've read differing opinions on that subject, so I don't. In the autumn, I collect sacks of dry leaves and keep them to put them down in the runs to keep the hens' feet off the mud when there is heavy rain. We have heavy clay soil so the ground gets waterlogged very easily. They love turning the leaves over in case there is a tasty tidbit lurking underneath and by the time the hens have finished with them, the leaves are all broken up and are put in the compost heap. If we get given more grass mowings than I can easily dry, they go in the compost too. I put a small layer of the mowings in all the seed trays that are not currently in use for seeds so that I can collect them easily up before the dew falls and stack them in the shed overnight. The long grass gets spread over the two garden benches (slatted so air flow on top and underneath) and also on top of the rabbit hutches - one of the only places in the garden to actually catch the sun. I can't actually produce or store enough hay to last the winter, but by doing bits like this, we can usually get away with just one bale bought in. That is not just the cost of a bale saved but 10 miles worth of petrol per bale too as we can only transport and store one at a time. The cost of a bale added to the cost of the petrol = expensive hay. Besides, I get a real kick out of giving the rabbits a handful of home produced hay :)

It is time to go and practise my music for church in the morning.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Five of my new little hens are now laying little beginner-sized eggs. It is quite exciting to come home from work and go out to the nest boxes to see how many eggs there are. Four of their little eggs weigh about the same as three average ones from the older hens.

I was listening to a news programme on the tv about the new government and its aims. A politician was saying that the people of Britain need to save lots more money because of the economic downturn but at the same time need to spend more in order to bolster industry. The government (and the last one) seem to want Britain to keep on being a consumer society. This does not sit well with me. We can't keep on consuming more and more. I'd like my grandchildren's grandchildren to have a little bit of planet left to live on and at the rate we are going - there won't be much left. And why do politicians want people to end up in debt? How does that help the country? Why can't they encourage us to live responsibly and be more self reliant? How can we develop a stable economy if it is based on consumer debt?


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Just a quick note to say one of my new little hens has laid an egg. I'm really surprised. I was not expecting any for another month at least and would not have been surprised if it had been longer. So I'm thrilled at how clever they are :) I'm not actually sure how old they are because I got them at a poultry auction and you are not told little details like that.

My little grandson came to call with his parents this evening - just for twenty minutes on his way home from Tesco. He has learnt to clap and when you say goodbye, he waves to you now. So many nice things happening today! And his parents brought me three packets of chopped tomatoes which are on offer at buy one, get two free for 59p. That is more pennies in the coffers. This is a step beyond bogof and I've not come across this offer before.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Well, here I am, in on my own today. My husband is off at a 2 day meeting and will be home at teatime. I don't know what to cook as I don't know what sort of meal he will be served for lunch today. He might have a full cooked meal or it might be a buffet sandwich and a sausage roll kind of thing. At least he will be paid for going to today's meeting :) - a little bit extra in the coffers.

The hens have not liked the weather reverting to normal British cold and rain and are not laying many eggs. It beats me how farmers make a living out of eggs. Hens either seem to inundate you with eggs or lay very few. They don't seem to have "happy medium" programmed into their system. My laying hens are around 18 months old now so any egg farmer would be thinking of sending them for pet food. Mine don't realise how fortunate they are to be living with us and not a farmer... I'm hoping that the new ones will lay a bit more consistently once they start. It is embarassing to have to tell my friends at work "Sorry no eggs today - they haven't laid enough." "But I thought you'd had new hens last year..?" "Yes but they still don't lay enough eggs." Non-hen people can understand when old hens don't lay enough but not when the hens are relatively young. It is not that I have millions of customers - only a few friends at work that take their turn in having a box. And I still don't break even with the costs.

With my husband being out at his meeting today and the weather forecast, I think that the weeds might start winning at the allotment this week. I'm hoping that we might be able to pop down one evening to do a little bit of work with the hoe - meetings and weather permitting. My pea shoots in the kitchen are growing nicely. I've planted some each week for three weeks now. Those from week 1 are about ready to eat and are nearly 4 inches tall, those from week 2 are growing little green leaves and those from week 3 have germinated and are starting to shoot. Added to a lettuce from the shop (until my homegrown salad leaves are ready) they should not only stretch the bought lettuce a bit further but taste delicious. And think of all those vitamins and goodness straight from pot to plate via the tap and then straight into me within less than two minutes. I've given a pack of dried peas to my friend and to my daughter and their shoots are coming up lovely too.

I've been following with great interest Weezl's blog and the development of a month's diet (one each for carnivores, vegetarians and vegans) on She and her team are developing and testdriving this month of recipes, including snacks, which comes out at £100 for a family of 4 and that is 80p a day each. They are paying great attention to making sure the calories are right and the fruit and veg and also vitamins and minerals, including trace elements. It is a huge job to sort all that out for each of the three groups of eaters. My hat is well and truly doffed to them. And I am looking forward to testdriving the final version myself. If you go to the forum on and go almost to the bottom of the page, there is a board called "How much have you saved?" and the thread about these recipes is almost at the top of the list of threads. Definitely worth a read!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

A long weekend! Lovely. This morning we provided the music for a children's activity morning that we held at church. Then we went shopping for a few bits and pieces. We called in to the new Asda that has opened in our area. I had brought a list of our staples with me and wanted to compare the prices for those with Tesco and Sainsburys. However, I discover that this medium size store stocks very few Smart Price items so our staples cost less at Sainsburys. I reckon that I won't be visiting Asda very often.

I very seldom have the opportunity to shop at Tesco but stock up on a few things when I get there. (eg 1 kg of porridge oats costs 59p in Tesco, 89p in Sainsburys and 2Kg costs £1.35 in Asda. I've forgotten the price in Lidl but Tesco was cheaper.) A large Sainsburys is less than 2 miles up the road so a 3ish mile round trip. However we pass very close to a medium size Sainsburys on the way home from work - which costs less in petrol to go to. There is a large Tesco which is a 13 mile round trip but only 14 if added to a trip out to the feed merchant to stock up on hen food and rabbit food. (A trip to this place is a 10 mile round trip on its own.) A medium Tesco is a six mile round trip but does not stock a wide variety of own brand items. We also have a Tesco Express/Local/whatever they call it about 400 yards away so no petrol used at all to go there but they seem to stock a lot of Tesco Finest and not much else... With petrol being at its current high price and our elderly car being very thirsty, I currently calculate that it costs us just over 30p in petrol alone to drive 1 mile. Hence the need to factor in travel costs to see which shop to visit, depending on hen food needs (I buy 6-8 sacks at a time and store them in the spare room), length of shopping list etc.

We also have an Aldi close to the large Sainsburys and a Lidl not far from work. I start work before Lidl is open and so we have to go there on the way home - and find that this week's specials have usually all been bought by the early shoppers. I do visit regularly in the hope of bargain prices but usually end up in the more mainstream supermarkets.

Of course my thoughts on supermarkets as above only go as far as moneysaving. I have not mentioned anything about ethics. I recently read a book about the damage supermarkets did to local economies and how they pressurised the farmers and food growers/producers to take less money when the shop had a special offer. I assumed a loss leader was a loss to the supermarket chain in order to draw the customer in but I had that wrong as they pass the loss on to the producer. I recently bought 3 litres of milk (0.75% fat) for £1 in Tesco. Subtract the processing, packaging, transport and storage costs and profit for the supermarket - what did the farmer receive for this milk in return for rearing and feeding a cow and all his time etc? It is no wonder that farmers go out of business. But I still bought the milk at £1 and feel guilty for doing it.

Of course, if I had a smallholding and were producing much more of our own food, I would not need a supermarket so much. I really like the thought of having a little Dexter cow :)