Friday, 13 March 2015

Hello, I'm back

Hello everyone.  The blog is back!

Last year was a disaster on a number of counts and I got very disillusioned with the whole smallholding/gardening/better life/blogging scenario.  Farmers markets were tried and not a success, farmgate sales weren't any better, so I basically gave up.  So much so that we have had no winter veg this this year at all, apart from potatoes and onions and a few carrots.  Hubby has not been pleased to have been buying veg all winter.

Anyway that was last year.  I'm pleased to say things are back to normal again now, probably better actually.  I have renewed vigour and enthusiasm and the garden is looking all the better for it.  This is because I am having to follow a gluten free diet; that change has been overwhelming for me in terms of the amount of energy I have, the enthusiasm and willingness to get stuck in more than I think I've ever had.  Its fab!

So onwards and upwards.  I've got lots of ideas of things I want to change/improve/do on the smallholding so I hope you'll stick with me as I go through them.  Please feel free to comment on anything you feel you need to - I always look forward to reading your comments.

A few photos to see how things have changed/improved etc -

The polytunnel at the moment - Spring cabbages and overwintered salads on the left hand side.  More salads, radishes etc on the right.  Rest of right hand side bed is first early potatoes, put in a fortnight ago

Overwintered salads, and seed trays full of flowers, leeks etc

Peas under the cloches, the rest dug over and muck applied.  Only a small (weed-infested) piece left to dig over (top left)

Looking back towards the house.  Fabric fleece over some more spring cabbages, that aren't doing very well and so will get pulled up.  Canes are in for my Carnations

Garlic growing very well, despite only going in a fortnight ago

The 'new' veg patch.  Daffodils in the foreground

The patch being cultivated.  All poultry houses are now in this bit - two chicken houses (one currently empty and waiting for the new arrivals, hopefully at the end of the month) and one duck hut

Hubby's cultivating equipment! 

Monday, 3 March 2014

Mycoplasma in chickens

Having lost one of my Exchequer Leghorn hens last week to this horrible disease I decided to do a bit of research.

I noticed that said hen had developed an abscess on the side of her face just under her eye, which had caused her eye to close completely, and was utterly blind on that side.  I left her for a few days to see if it would clear up of its own accord, but come Monday it hadn't got any better so sought veterinary help.

An injection of antibiotics was given and another appointment booked for three days after.  It was on the second visit that I was given the bad news.

'It's a highly contagious disease,' the vet said, 'one that if the hen gets over it, will cause her to be a carrier of the disease for the rest of her life and then obviously infect the rest of your flock.  The hen will not be as strong and fit and she was previously, considerably a poor doer, and therefore may not lay any eggs.  I think the only cause of treatment would be to euthanaise. Sorry!' he said.

Well I was stunned as you can imagine and came away from the vets with a doomed chicken in my cat basket.

I pondered the pros and cons all afternoon, until Hubby came home and we discussed it.  The outcome being that it would be no life for her if she was 'not quite right' for the rest of her days, and I didn't want to risk the health of the rest of the flock.  So unfortunately she was put down.

The disease is one that affects the respiratory tract and immune system, swollen sinuses are typical of the disease - see pic below.  It can also affect the kidneys.

Not very attractive, I think you'l agree.

The disease affects chickens, ducks, turkeys and wild birds, so take care if wild birds can get access to your drinkers, feeders etc as the disease can also last on these implements for a couple of hours too.  Stress i.e. moving birds into the flock, new housing, weather changes, changes in diet, is a major factor in this disease erupting.

Basic hygiene and welfare standards are paramount in the control of this disease.  Vaccination is possible, but only available in large doses, so would be expensive.  Veterinary treatment with antibiotics is possible, but with the outcome as described above.

A sad day, but everyone else (touching wood), is fine.

Stats today -
Sales = 1/2 dozen eggs £1.00
1 bunch of Daffodils £0.50
Expenses = nil
Eggs produced = 5

Sunday, 2 March 2014

To chit or not to chit

Now having bought some seed potatoes from the Potato day (see my earlier post), I only had a week to chit them before I was planting the other, previously bought and chitted first early seed potatoes.  So it made me wonder if chitting really mattered.  What is chitting anyway?

Essentially chitting is sprouting, exposing the seed potato to light so that shoots develop, it is the start of growth for the seed potato.  Green shoots as opposed to white shoots are preferable as these are stronger, white shoots are very brittle.  This process gives the seed potato a head start, before going in the ground, it also means that potato crops will be ready earlier; it is in fact an ageing process.  Chits are the stems of the new plant, off of which your new crop of seed potatoes will grow.

To chit your seed potatoes they need to be laid out in a cool, well lit room, with their eyes, or small sprouts upper most, to let the chits grow strong and green.  Different varieties produce chits at different rates.

There is some school of thought that chitting is not necessary, in fact a warmer soil temperature will do more good, and therefore not age the potato prematurely.

Another idea is to rub off any more than two sprouts that appear, this then doesn't overwhelm or stress the tuber unnecessarily.  This tends to lead to less potatoes in number, but bigger tubers.

It's interesting to find out why these things are done, even if it's just to find out that that is the way it's done, end of story.  I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome of the chitted tubers versus the only a week old chitted tubers, yield and size.

Chitted tuber, planted with sprout facing upwards

Will keep you informed when we start to harvest as to yields etc.

Stats today -
Sales = nil
Expenses = nil
Eggs produced = 7

Saturday, 1 March 2014

February 2014 stats

Stats for February 2014 are up now -

Sales -
13 dozen eggs = £22.00
3 bunches Daffodils = £1.50

Total = £23.50

Expenses -
Seed potatoes £9.45

Balance = £14.05

Expenses balance brought forward = £112.95
New Expenses balance to be paid off = £98.90

Well that mainly greenhouse expense balance is coming down, bit slow though.  Hopefully we can have an early and warm spring, get things growing and producing

Monday, 17 February 2014


Over the last few days I have been sorting out my compost heaps, a job that here has never really been bothered with much.  Sounds crazy I know, considering the amount of plant material that is produced here, especially as I like to follow organic principles as far as I can.

Which got me to thinking - What actually is Compost?

I tested the internet with exactly that question and the first answer courtesy of Google was (and I'm quoting here),
'noun - decayed organic material used as a fertiliser for growing plants',
(read organic pertaining to once living, not as in the application/undertaking of organic farming principles)

'verb - make (vegetable matter or manure) into compost'

OK, so reading between the lines of those two statements, compost is the effect of decay on plant material and manure, which turns said material into a highly nutritious source of food for currently growing plants.

That sounds pretty darn good to me, free fertiliser that will help my existing plants grow big, strong and healthy.

According to and again I'm quoting here -
'Composting transforms garden and other vegetable waste into a dark, rich productive soil amendment the gardeners call Black Gold'

So in a way not only is it a form of fertliser/soil conditioner, it is a form of recycling too, and once said compost is incorporated into the soil it immediately improves the condition of that soil - making heavy soils easier to work - loosening them off and giving light soils better water retentive capabilities.  All round giving the plants better access to nutrients, therefore increasing the productivity of the soil.  WOW!

So, having turned all three bins, emptying one completely onto the manure pile I noticed that none of my resulting 'compost' looked like 'Black Gold'!  One was particularly dry, one particularly wet and the other wasn't too bad, although not quite decomposed enough.  More trial and research needed methinks!

First one emptied straight onto the manure pile, and yes I had help!

The other two still to go

The one that I thought didn't look too bad after turning

As above, but needs a bit longer I think

Thursday, 13 February 2014

This year's potatoes - First earlies

We had already bought a 'net of first early potatoes before I went to the Potato day at Stonham Barns last weekend, so they have sitting, chitting quite happily in the office and are now ready to go in the ground.  The variety is Duke of York, a very old, high quality Scottish bred potato.  They are an excellent first early, boiling potato, quickly maturing into a good all-round potato as the season progresses.  Shall look forward to trying them, can't remember that we've had them before.

Duke of York, first early seed potatoes, chitted

Potatoes bought from the Potato Day were researched for their high resistance to Common Scab, which on our sandy soil we suffer from quite badly.  On entry to the Potato day I purchased  - 'A guide to seed potato varieties', by Alan Romans, and it's thanks to him that I was able to do the research, something I've never done before, so I shall be interested to see the outcome.

Common Scab is a bacterial disease that affects potato tubers particularly in dry soils when the tubers are forming and growing.  It doesn't affect the yields of the potatoes, but does affect their saleability, rendering tubers unsightly.  We live with it here, but try and get as much manure into the soil and water like mad whilst they are growing to try and alleviate some of the problem.

Arran Pilot is the other first early I've got, again an old variety, probably classed as Heritage by now.  Again a Scottish bred potato, bred by Donald Mackelvie, a potato breeder on the Isle of Arran (hence all 'his' potatoes are pre-fixed Arran).  It was hugely popular in the commercial world for approx 30 years, but earlier 'earlies' have taken its place.  It's a good boiler, not disintegrating to mush if over-boiled, but sizes do vary.  This should be a good variety for me as I do have a tendency to over boil them.  Looking forward to tasting these.  I may even plant these non-chitted as a trial, to satisfy curiosity and something that I have just read too, but more on that later.

Arran Pilot, first early seed potatoes, un-chitted currently

Stats today - 
Eggs produced = 6
Sales - 1 dozen eggs £1.95
Expenses - Seed potatoes £9.45 (forgot to add them in on Sunday's post)

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Potato day

On Saturday morning I spent a wonderful couple of hours at the annual event at Stonham Barns, Suffolk that is the Potato day.

This annual event plays host to approximately 80 varieties of seed potatoes, across the board of first, second and maincrop.  It was the first time I had been and I was amazed at the spectacle that hit my eyes.

All the varieties were laid out in alphabetical order with a short description about them, you then grabbed a brown paper bag and a pen and set to deciding on which you fancied.

I arrived at 10.30am and some of the varieties had already sold out it was that busy and popular.  A catalogue of all the available varieties was on sale, which was a handy reference as it contained more details on each variety - the resistance to scab, blight etc.

I came away flabbergasted, but with some potatoes - more on that in another post.  What a great morning out!

Friday, 7 February 2014

Cut flowers - an update

Well, I must have read every book on the subject, looked in every mail order catalogue and raided the internet for information on cut flowers over and over again, and I still don't know where to start!

I think it must be something that sorts itself out once you get started, maybe I'm just a bit nervous and apprehensive, this weather isn't helping!  February is a dreadful month I always find, it's crappy weather which practically leads to hibernation and a bored Angela!

I have got a long list of cut flowers I would like to grow, but the list is extensive and if you've read my other posts on the subject, you'll know that the garden isn't laid out sufficiently to accommodate all these plants just yet.  So I've bought some seeds and awaiting some others, and am trying to be patient until the weather is sufficiently warm enough to sow them.  I have also joined the Cottage Garden society - and have also joined Flowers from the Farm, which was featured on the BBC's Great British Garden Revival programme -  Plus I have booked to go on a course organised by the organiser / creator of Flowers from the farm; the course is entitled 'Start growing flowers for market', so hopefully all this information should give me a head start and give me confidence for when those seeds go into trays of compost at the end of February.  Wish me luck!

Stats today -
Eggs produced = 4
Sales - 1 doz eggs £1.85
Expenses - Nil

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

January stats

Bit quiet on the stats front, but then I suppose it's to be expected in January.

Here you go -

8 & 1/2 dozen eggs £15.60.

Told you it was a bit quiet!  February's not looking much brighter at the moment either!

Expenses balance = £128.55

New deficit balance = £112.95

Taking it's time to get rid of this balance, but at least it's going in the right direction.  Sales, I don't suppose, will pick up until spring, patience is not one of my virtues!

Stats today -
Eggs produced = 5
Sales = Nil
Expenses = Nil

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Girls are back in town

Or at least back at home!

The girls and boy have been off on their holidays for the last couple of months grazing a friend's pony paddocks, just to nibble off the tops and generally give the paddocks a 'sheep health check'.  It's a great way to revitalise paddocks that get used solely by horses, it really does clean up the paddocks and gets rid of any nasties!

Hello everyone!

Trailer waiting for it's cargo, with hurdles to go either side of the gate posts

Now normally we don't have any problem loading up the sheep, we just drop the ramp and up they go, but as it was raining, they didn't want to come home.  Good job we took our reinforcement with us -

I had to share the front seat with her and the seat belt!  Although she wasn't too impressed with either, but she won't sit in the back.  This is Cerys, our sheepdog.

Loaded, phew!

And all home, happily tucking into some tasty haylage

Always good to have them home again, like knowing where they are and knowing they are safe!  All a waiting game now to the middle of April when they are due to lamb.  Exciting times ahead.

Stats today -
Eggs produced = 7
Sales - 1/2 doz eggs
Expenses - Nil