Here We Go Again

Over the past year this blog has been very neglected and I have hardly posted at all. This has been in part due to the day job taking over and having to work away from home for a while. However, I am back working a bit closer to home now so I figure I should have a bit more time available (in theory). Looking back through previous posts I have had a couple of false restarts, but I think now is the time to get going again in earnest.

To mark this I have migrated the blog over to WordPress. This was a slightly scary, but actually surprisingly simple process. At the time of writing it all looks a little drab and uninteresting so I am going to spend some time trying to get it looking good.

I am not growing any vegetables this year as I am just trying to get the garden straight as several parts it have become very overgrown. This is proving to be taking a while and the garden is currently looking more of a mess than before. Anyway, the point I am getting to is that I won’t be able to write much about what I am growing as I am not actually growing anything. However, I will be posting some tips on a range of things, recipes and reviews as well as tracking progress on taming the wilderness that has become our garden. I will probably throw in a few other related things to do with self-sufficiency and eco living.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Let’s hope I can keep it up this time!

Taking a Break From Growing Vegetables

This year has been pretty rubbish for me for vegetable growing, mostly as a result of a lack of time and starting much too late. Anyway, having had a look around the garden as a whole I can see that it has got way out of control. Mostly, the leylandii hedges need to be seriously cut back as well as some other trees that need cutting back or felling altogether. My limited time has been focused on the vegetable garden which has meant that everything else has got out of hand.

So, I have made the radical decision not to grow any vegetables next year and instead to focus the rest of the garden instead. This will involve lots of chopping of wood and clearing of areas that are not currently serving any purpose.

The main byproduct of this will be lots of firewood. Most of this will be leylandii the bigger bits of which take a couple of years to properly season. But most importantly it will be free!

I have already started cutting one hedge, but as I it gets colder I will need to stop until the spring. It’s a good job I have recently bought a new chainsaw!

New Beginnings

Yes, I am still here! I haven’t posted in months and months so if I have any regular readers left you may be wondering whether I have given up altogether. I had started to lose a little momentum at the beginning of last year, but I think what did it for me was starting another blog. I had this grand idea of having an expert blog around the theme of self-sufficiency and so Self-Sufficiency Life was born. The idea was that I would write posts full of useful information that would make my new blog a complete eco resource. A Smallholder’s Diary would be more about what I had been doing.

However, after a good start Self-Sufficiency Life ground to a halt as I struggled to find the an inspiration to write the really good posts that I aspired to. Meanwhile, on A Smallholder’s Diary, I felt that I had run out of things to say.

Later in the year, some very difficult things happened at work (which I don’t want to go into here) which means that I am currently working some distance from home and staying away a couple of nights per week. So now I have less time for doing self-sufficiency stuff let alone wring about it.

So now I have a choice; should I abandon my blogs or should I find some way of resurrecting them. Well, the plan that I have come up with is to abandon Self-Sufficiency Life and to try and reinvigorate A Smallholder’s Diary. With this blog I shall return to the mix of talking about what I have been doing with some (hopefully) useful information. I am thinking I might transfer this over to WordPress if I can figure out how to. Some of the posts from Self-Sufficiency Life may find their way here.

With Spring in the air (although still tinged with a bit of Winter) now seems a good time to make a new start. Hopefully the weather will warm up soon so I might have something to write about!

This Year’s Growing Season Has Been Rubbish!

Things really have not gone very well at all this year. The weather has not been favourable at all. First there were the late frosts with a particularly cold period during February. Then we had a very warm March with talk of drought. And then we had the seemingly endless rain. On and on it seemed to go. It feels that summer has only just arrived now – today has been very warm and greenhouse felt like it was hotter than the surface of the sun itself.

I have to admit to being a bit of a fair weather gardener, and as fair weather has been somewhat lacking recently I have not been out as much as I should have. As a result weeds have really been taking hold, particularly nettles and bindweed which is getting to be a real problem. Also the late frosts killed off much the blossom on the trees which means that my fruit harvest is severely diminished. My damson tree is particularly disappointing – last year it was heaving with fruit whereas this year there are barely any at all.

Potatoes have also been very disappointing with a much smaller than usual crop and of the potatoes that I have, many have been eaten by wireworm. This is not good news as this means they have spread across the plot now as I always have problems with wireworm on the other side of the plot.. I think I may give potatoes a miss next year.

There have been some exceptions – the garlic has done much better than the previous years, so I think they actually quite liked the late frost. The shallots have also done rather well.

The greenhouse has also been disappointing, not helped by a break in earlier in the season. Not by disaffected youths, but by my goats! Their pen backs onto my improvised greenhouse separated by a piece of wood which they like to butt their horns against. Inevitably the wood eventually gave way allowing the the goats into the greenhouse and munch their way through my tomato plants, pepper plants and cucumber plants. I was not amused and it is lucky for them we are vegetarian.

All in all it has not been going well. I think will salvage what I can this year and start thinking ahead to next spring.

Unexpected Goslings!

Spring into early summer is when the geese start laying their eggs. Usually we don’t allow the geese to sit on their eggs as we were not planning on having any more geese at the present time. If they do start sitting on them it is a case of picking up the eggs during the brief periods when the goose gets up to feed. This time though we never managed to get them as the goose never seemed to be off the eggs when we were looking. I did try and coax her off but this was met with lots of very cross hissing and she stubbornly refused to budge. In the end we gave up and left her to it thinking that they probably wouldn’t hatch anyway. Just when we were thinking that time had passed for them to hatch we spotted three little yellow goslings following their parents around the garden. This prompted a quick dash to the local animal feed suppliers to buy some chick crumb.

Ordinarily when you hatch out goslings you need to keep them under a heat lamp to keep them warm, but their mother seems to be doing this job very well, so we have left them to it. In the longer term we are not sure what we are going to do with them; I guess we will decide that when they reach maturity.

New Arrivals: Indian Runner Ducks

I have definitely been neglecting my blog recently. If my blog were my vegetable plot it would be knee deep in nettles, thistles, docks and other assorted weeds. I just seem to have lost momentum somehow. I have decided to try and bring it back to life and get back into the routine of posting regularly. Fortunately blogs don’t suffer from neglect in the same way as gardens and there is not a need to do any drastic weeding before “planting” my posts.

We have recently been given some runner ducks, although actually one of them is mixture of runner and something else. Runners are the best ducks for eggs and are normally fairly prolific layers. These started off laying well and have now just suddenly stopped. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the recently warm weather or what. We are having to keep these in a pen as the geese have not taken kindly to sharing the garden with them and have done their best to make them unwelcome.

We used to have ducks in the past, before a fox had them all. They may look cute, but I had forgotten how messy they are. How can such small birds produce so much poo?! Let’s hope they get back to producing some eggs soon as they are very good for baking.

Spring Planting Gets Under Way

I promised myself that this year I would make an early start to spring planting making full use of the greenhouse to maximise the growing season. Of course I didn’t manage this – there were too many other things getting in the way. That late flurry of winter in February didn’t help either.

Anyway, I did make a tentative start a couple of weekends ago with the annual greenhouse repair and rotavating of the veg plot. I did also sow a few seeds in the greenhouse and put the shallot and onion sets in the ground as well. Another vital bit of preparation was chopping back some tree branches that were overhanging the plot and providing far too much shade – these will be good for firewood later in the year. I have more tidying up to do around the edges as some other bushes and trees have grown up to shade one side of the plot. I don’t really want to cut them back, but I am going to have to be ruthless I think to maintain the light.

Last weekend I had good intentions of sowing more seeds, both in the greenhouse and in the ground, but for various reasons this just did not quite happen. In the event this was probably just as well we had a frost earlier in the week.

I haven’t got many seeds left over from last year so I had to take a trip to the local garden centre and spend large sums of money on seeds, etc. It seems that the price of seeds has gone up a lot from last year – or is that just me? I think that next year I should be more organised and source some cheaper on the internet.

Anyway, this weekend should be busy with plenty of sowing, both in the plot and in the greenhouse. Oh yes, and chopping back those bushes.

Looking Forward to Summer

Just a few weeks ago we had snow lying on the ground and temperatures were down as low as -16C. The ground was frozen solid and I avoided spending time outside as toes and fingers felt like they were going to drop off they were so cold. Now the daffodils and snowdrops are out and today there has been a definite feel of spring in the air. Before we know it the evenings will be getting longer and temperatures will climb and hopefully lots of opportunity to sit out in the garden to enjoy the sun.

Over the winter my chairs and tables have suffered from the weather so I will have to give them a good clean – I normally wipe down with detergent before rinsing off with a hosepipe. Or perhaps I might even look at buying some more garden furniture. These days there is so much more to choose from rather the rather boring green or white plastic chairs and tables that were the only options in the past. With the right furniture you can turn your garden into another room of your house – the perfect spot to enjoy summer meals, a few drinks or just simply to relax. Somehow it always seems so much more sociable sitting outside without the distractions of television.

In the meantime, the evenings just are not long enough and the days are still not that warm. Besides, there is all that spring planting and digging in the veg plot to do, so not much time for relaxation at the moment. I am hoping that I can get the garden a bit more under control over the spring so that ultimately it will be a much nicer place to sit out in over the summer. However, I do have rather a lot to do to achieve this, so relaxing in the sun feels a rather long way off. So here’s looking forward to the summer.

Goodbye 2011….. Hello 2012!

Well, 2012 already! How did that happen? Much to look forward to in the coming year, not to mention the Olympics – no I didn’t get any tickets in case you were wondering, so I will be watching it from the comfort of the sofa.

As is the tradition on A Smallholder’s Diary it is time to review how I have done over the previous year and set myself some targets for the year ahead. Having looked again at what I set myself to do last year I’m not sure I want to do this as it doesn’t feel that I have done very well.Anyway, best face up to it then and check out how I did:

  1. To make sure that the veg plot is as productive as it can possibly be. I didn’t do too badly on the veg plot. Plenty of potatoes, broccoli, parsnips, shallots, leeks and pumpkins. However, sweetcorn, peas and garlic did not do very well at all.
  2. To make sure that we have as little waste as possible from the veg and fruit that we grow. This was about making sure that we use our crops effectively and making sure we freeze, pickle, jam or otherwise preserve everything we don’t use immediately. We have done quite well with this with various jams and pickles made and the freezer is well stocked with fruit and veg.
  3. Clear the plot intended for the herb plot. No, I didn’t manage this. I made a start, but other things took over, so it is nearly as overgrown as it was at the beginning of last year.
  4. Clear the plot intending for the dyeing plants. No – same as above.
  5. Make soap. Kind of achieved this – we bought some pre-made soap for melting down into bars for selling. It turned out that making soap for selling is a bit of a legal minefield – all soap needs to be certified by a chemist before you can sell and this costs money.
  6. Plant more trees for firewood. I didn’t manage to do this due primarily to the particularly bad winter meaning that the ground was frozen until early spring, by which time I wasn’t able to get any.
  7. Replace the fencing around the front area. I didn’t manage to do this. I did start to clear some of the old fencing but didn’t get any further as the cost was prohibitive.
  8. Replenish our stock of chickens. We didn’t do this in the end, but wished that we did. We now only have one chicken left.

So, what about plans for the coming year? Well, I think it is the same as last year and maybe I might achieve them this time. The extra thing I need to do is to cut back the remaining hedges which have grown way out of control.

That’s my work cut out for the coming year then!

I’ve Started A New Blog

Yes, that’s right I have started a new blog! It is again on the theme of self-sufficiency and I have called it Self-Sufficiency Life. Let me answer a few questions you may have.

What’s the point of starting a new blog on self-sufficiency? Well I have learned a lot from this blog. But the main thing that I have learned is that the posts that people really want to read and get the most traffic are those that provide useful information. The emphasis of A Smallholder’s Diary has tended to be around talking about what I have been doing. I did consider changing the emphasis of this blog to more useful stuff, but concluded that I would rather start afresh, especially as the title of the blog does not really reflect the direction that I want to go in. The intention is that Self-Sufficiency Life will provide (hopefully) useful information on self-sufficiency and eco-living.

What will the new blog cover? All aspects of self-sufficiency really. So growing vegetables and fruit, keeping chickens, recipes, pickling, preserving, green energy, crafty bits, recycling, and more…. I am intending that it will include useful information as well as news relevant to self-sufficiency and some posts designed to spark some debate.

What’s with the clunky title? Well that in the end was down to the availability of domain names. I had originally bought practicalselfsufficiency.net, but then found that Dick Strawbridge has recently written a book by the name of Practical Self-Sufficiency, so I thought there was potential to land myself in some hot water. Self-Sufficiency Life was one of the few available alternatives.

What does this mean for A Smallholder’s Diary? I am hoping to keep A Smallholder’s Diary going alongside Self-Sufficiency Life, although I confess that my posting has been very erratic recently. In order to keep the two identities separate I will be focusing primarily on describing what I have been up to.

Self-Sufficiency is still in its early stages (at the time of writing I have published only two posts, although you will find a few guides published on static pages) but I am intending to grow it into a successful blog with a large regular readership. Why not pay it a visit and let me know what you think so far. Visit Self-Sufficiency Life here.