Friday, 8 August 2014

Proper Smallholders Yet?

Sorry for neglecting this Blog, real life gets in the way far too often and we spend so much time "doing" we never seem to have time to re-examine. It has been almost two years to the day since we moved here and I still don't feel like a proper smallholder, or at least I didn't until the beginning of July, this was when these chaps arrived

Meet Beano, Dandy and Dennis, they are staying with us for the summer, eating our grass and making me smile on a daily basis.  They belong to a friend who has too many sheep and not enough grass our payment in lieu of rent and care will be half a carcass of prime Lincolnshire lamb. I have despaired at the fact they won't be sheared before they go to the butcher in November, as they all have lovely fleece however I am hoping to have the skins to turn into rugs. I gather there is some special paperwork at the abattoir (when isn't there?) as skin is classed as hazardous waste but it is possible. 

It is strange to think that in the last two years we have raised hens for eggs and meat, quail and ducks and kept three pigs but it was someone else's stock that made us feel like "proper" smallholders, I think perhaps it was to do with being seen as trustworthy enough to care for what is essentially valuable assets . The arrangements suit us perfectly as when there owner comes to do any healthcare jobs we get to help and learn, which will help when we get sheep of our own. We will definitely keep sheep of our own next year, probably orphan lambs as we don't really have enough land to keep ewes and lambs. the joy of this experience is that it has cost us nothing but we have gained confidence and skills which will help us be better shepherds. 

Its not a complete disaster on the fleece front either as the owners of the sheep have fleeces from the parents and older sisters of the boys that I can take my pick of. I have quite a collection of fleece now and need to start the long process of washing it all before the lovely weather we have been used to disappears. My spinning has improved loads but there aren't enough hours in the day at the moment, come winter when outdoor jobs are less pressing I will be happily pedalling away hopefully sitting on a new sheepskin rug. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

June Bouquet

Following on from the garden post I was inspired to start a new feature, each month I will pick a bouquet of flowers for the house and share them with you too. Here is June's bouquet, a mixture of roses, poppies, centaurea, ferns, black elder, geranium and foxgloves, oh and a bit of feverfew. I have always like playing with flowers , I did a short flower arranging was about 30 years ago but still remember the basics I think it is really pretty and the scent is amazing. Can't wait til July :)

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Back Garden

We have done a lot of work in recent weeks renovating the back garden, This garden is north facing but gets the sun from noon until sunset . We began by replacing the old fence above with the new one below, this fence borders our neighbours 'wild' field after what seemed like months of pulling weed seedlings out of the garden last year we decided we needed a more solid barrier. As well as keeping the weeds back it will also create the perfect backdrop to show off the plants. 

The garden itself consists of a central bed surrounded by a path which is again surrounded by borders, the planting is cottage garden in style and the central bed has a few large shrubs . The gardens original owner planted plants for their sensory qualities and we have added where possible to keep this theme. 

Last year we built a deck in this little corner its just big enough for two armchairs and a little table , perfect for watching the sun go down.  I can often be found here hving a cuppa and surveying all the hard work we have done, the kids never think to look here for me either which is a bonus. I have a few pots to go in this area I must get them in position, they are filled with fuchsias and Dianthus.

The wall on the right is the back of our neighbours outbuildings (a milking parlour and dairy for cheese making) and is covered in scented climbers. The winter Honeysuckle is scent-sational as is the Viburnum Burkwoodii planted by the gate. 

This is one of the views from the deck, dense planting so as to crowd out any weeds, well at least that's the theory. 

This is the view into the central bed , not so much work been done here , pretty much left it as we found it , there's a large bamboo which makes me nervous as its close to the house (and our Victorian septic tank). Bamboos can be incredibly invasive causing damage to buildings and foundations but I am assured this is not one of the thugs. 

This is the opposite side of the garden adjoining the field, most of the plants here were rescued from a local country house which dug up its borders after a decision to close to the public and reduce it's staffing.  

They are filling out nicely and it was great having access to big clumps of healthy plants, certainly save us a few quid , but its a shame to see the gardeners life's work dug up. So that is your tour of the garden , It will be a while before you get to see the front one as it is undergoing some major changes, including yet another sitting and relaxing spot in the form of a summerhouse, I promise we do work hard not just spend the days sitting around !

Monday, 9 June 2014

Permaculture MOT Part One

What is Permaculture?

I first became aware of the term 'Permaculture' a few years ago but have yet to find a definition of the principles that doesn't leave people confused,  a friend forwarded me this recently and I have to say this is  the easiest explanation I have ever read. Its been just over a year since we moved and started our smallholding, I thought now would be a good idea to see how well we have stuck to our 'permaculture principles'. 

Blackcurrant bushes growing in rows North-South

Observe and interact

We observed our land for quite some time before we lifted a spade (or a post driver) we watched the way the sun travelled across the land, we observed how the land drained (or not) and we watched the wind patterns. After a couple of months we came up with a plan and on the whole we have stuck to itour veg beds are on the most southern part of our plot and run north to south in order to get maximum sunlight as the sun crosses the sky. The pond was dug in an area of the field which naturally held water,the spoil was used to create a bank around the pond and scattered with wild flowers to create a nectar bar for bees and insects. A woodland was planned and planted at the north end in an arc pattern to create a shelter belt from those cold north winds, and in line with Permaculture zoning this area which needs the least attention is furthest from the house.

The wild flower bank in its second summer

Catch and store energy

Now this is an interesting one because energy has lots of guises , but the best way I can think of explaining it is to conserve/store energy ...both animal, vegetable and mineral.  We have insulated our house as much as possible to minimise the use of fossil fuel (in our case oil) and harvested rainwater for use in the garden and for the animals. We have collected and chopped firewood all spring to use over winter and we have preserved and frozen lots of food energy too (animal and vegetable). we conserved personal energy by operating a no dig approach in the veg plot, using mulch /lasagne beds. We use the composting loo whenever possible to conserve precious tap water, whilst all these things were done with Eco-mindedness  there has been a knock on effect on our personal expenditure too, as household running costs have gone down  . I would really love a form of electric generation but funds prohibit this at this stage , and wind turbines are not welcomed in our district which is sad. 

Who can say these are ugly?

Obtain a yield

This one would seem simple but permaculture is not just about gardening, the principles can be applied to everyday life. A yield could be sharing a meal and offering comfort, skill sharing, giving time to help others in your community. Whilst we have had quite a good vegetable and fruit yield we have both made an effort to get involved in community/group activities. Hubby volunteers at a local woodland, planting tidying and coppicing local woodlands. I volunteer at a gardening eduction project and sit on a couple of local committees as well as this I  cook for some of the elderly members of my wider 'family'. We have both also learned many new skills both practical (bricklaying, woodturning, felting, carving and  green woodworking)  and some creative (reading and playing music, spinning and using a knitting machine).

Our first home grown bacon

Apply self-regulation and respond to feedback

To me this section is about looking to both the past and the future, recognising things that work and those that don'tThe woodland we planted is never going to mature in our lifetime this will be our legacy to future generations that live on the farm.  We have benefited from hedges planted by past generations, both in shelter terms as well as the fact they provide homes for wildlife for us to watch. They also provide us with wild produce which we have eaten and added value to to create a small income.  The field we grow our veg in is one which was once farmed organically on a commercial basis so has lots of fertility built in......evidenced by the presence of nettles and  thistles. By using this as a base and adding mulch beds we guarantee it's future fertility

Renewable Resources

Trees are the ultimate example of a renewable multi-purpose resource. From them, we get food building materials, and fuel. They also provide shade during summer for cooling our homes, blocking the wind, filtering the air, and releasing oxygen. Our fruit trees  will eventually yield crops for many years  and will mean that we can eventually  practice the ethic of fair share by sharing our crops with our friends, neighbours and wider community. Even when the trees have finished their productive life, we can use their wood  as fuel or building materials or chip them to create mulch or compost. We plan to add more trees and shrubs so that we end up with a diverse age range of plant material, this is key to biodiversity and longevity.

Produce no waste

This area is the one we need to improve on the most, whilst the garden itself produces no waste, and it provides an opportunity to recycle some of the household waste (peelings, paper, card as well as clothing made from natural fibres) the waste which leaves our home in collections could be improved. Part of the problem comes from sharing our home with someone who doesn't embrace our lifestyle choice fully, my eldest son is most definitely a consumer ..............of electronics, gadgets, and takeaway food. The majority of waste that leaves our house comes from him, he will be leaving home soon which will solve our bin problem but I worry it won't help the planet. We are lucky in that our council has a very wide ranging doorstep recycling scheme and at least everyone in the house sorts their rubbish for collection.

I will follow this post up outlining our achievements in other areas in the next few weeks , but want to ask how many of you reflect on your goals and achievements?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Re- Purposed

Its been a while I know and this will be a quick post too, just wanted to share a picture of our latest re-purposing project. This belfast sink was up until recently buried on the smallholding, then it was used as a trough for the pigs but they found it a bit too easy to get into. So having drooled for years over those stone troughs with alpine plants in at garden centres I made my own. The grit was £3 and the plants another £3. looking at the picture I should perhaps of washed it better first........oops never mind mother nature will sort it out. 

The old galvanised sheep trough we painted and planted with herbs last year is doing well and has kept us in parsley, bay and rosemary all winter, I have even taken some cutting which have all rooted.

The next re-purposed planter is going to be one of these: 
(image from ebay )

We bought three off a friend for the price of one really , one has a crack in and would be fine as a feeder but I fancy transforming it ....................any ideas? (Its 3 feet wide and a bit rusty) 

Hopefully catch up with goings on in the veg plot soon, if I can ever stop "doing" long enough to "talk" about it lol. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

New Year, New Fedge

In the aftermath of the high winds (two of our chicken coops imploded and a huge crack willow fell) we decided we needed to work on creating some shelter for the chicken enclosure from the south easterly winds. After a bit of research we decided on a willow fedge, we had planted some small cuttings of willow and most seem to have taken but they are just too small to offer any protection. These will be transplanted elsewhere , and may in time be harvested as more fedge material.

A fedge is a cross between a fence and a hedge and offers an almost instantaneous permeable barrier. Research led us to many discussions on aerodynamics and  lots of diagrams about turbulence and eddies. Essentially a fedge filters the wind and calms it , the air which goes over the top is buffeted away by the filtered air below which prevents it from heading ground-ward.  This leads to improved air circulation on the side opposite the prevailing wind and the creation of a micro-climate. This micro-climate can serve many functions such as preventing soil erosion ,warming the soil and providing shelter for small birds and mammals. Our primary concern was to channel the wind away from our hen houses, so we concentrated on the area directly in front of them, The fedge itself is in the vegetable plot but  the hen houses are close by, we decided to build the fedge a metre away from the existing fence to allow access for maintenance to both the fence and the fedge. 

We began by banging a few 5ft posts in about 6ft apart we then made planting holes with a thin dibber a foot apart along the length of the fedge line, 2 willow whips 6-7ft long were placed side by side in each hole and pushed in to a depth of about 12 inches then the fun began! The weaving took longer than expected and it was definitely a 2 person job, as we needed to tie in the branches where they crossed to prevent them un-weaving. In essence one of the 2 whips goes left and the other right but they alternate between going in front of and behind at the points at which they cross the other whips.  Once the willow starts to grow we will need to continue to weave it in once it reaches about 6ft tall we will cut off the growing tips to encourage bushing out, also anything above this height it seems can create turbulence in the area we want to protect. We used biodegradable sisal twine to tie the crossing branches once the plants are established it will rot away, it is also possible that these crossed branches will graft to one another making the structure even stronger. we used mainly salix viminalis or Osier willow which we harvested from the farm we mixed this with a bit of coloured willow I got from a friend. We look forward to seeing it grow and hope it has the desired effect on the chicken coop.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

New Hobby

Santa was really good to me this year, he brought me the most perfect gift, something I have wanted for a long time, a few weeks before Christmas this arrived:

Ashford traditional wheel
I have wanted to learn to spin for several years and after some encouragement(and a few practices on her wheel) from a spinning friend I took the plunge and ordered a wheel. it came from Wingham Woolwork which is the country's cheapest supplier of Ashford spinning wheels,which come from New Zealand where they know a bit about sheep. much practising has done and my hand eye coordination is getting better, this is my first ball of usable yarn

I have joined  a spinning guild and two local groups so should be able to spin with friends at least three times a month.It is great spinning in the company of others you learn so much more than from books alone. So far I have been gifted several rare breed sheep fleeces and promised many more, preparing the fleece is more time consuming than expected but washed fleece ready to spin costs around £20 a kg so grateful for the gifts! 

So far I have fleece from the following breeds

Jacob (the picture above is Jacob)
Torwen(welsh sheep)
Ouessant (mini French sheep)

The fleeces are in a range of colours from jet black through to white and all shades of brown grey and cream in between.  I have managed to get all the fleece washed and almost all of it carded on a drum carder hired from the spinners guild for £4 for the month. Carding is the process of getting the fibres all neat ready for spinning and is very time consuming and more than a bit fiddly, so this bit of kit has saved me loads of time and at £250 I don't think I will ever own my own. As well as spinning raw fleece I have ordered some ready to spin 'roving' also know as 'tops' from World of Wool , this is much easier to spin than fleece but costs much more. I have ordered 3 colourways:




 I am looking forward to spinning these lovely colour combinations, I will post pictures once it is spun up and the non spinners among you will be surprised at the change in their appearance as the colours change so much once twisted . Spinning is very relaxing lulling me into an almost Zen like state and it is totally addictive. Only downside is there aren't enough hours in the day to spend doing it, although the recent bad weather has meant doing a little more than usual.