Friday, 30 December 2016

2016 - still moving forward

2016 - still moving forward

Each year I like to look back and compare the past to see if we are still moving in the right direction. Our lifestyle is all about living a simpler and more healthy life, less reliant on money and avoiding the rat race. 

One measure of this is the place we spend most time, the garden, our little field. Having started out with a wet, flat, and blank field, the question is are we moving toward a place that gives us plenty of fruit, veg and a nice environment to just live in. Pictures and numbers seem to show this best and since 2015 I have been recording all the food that we have grown. Since we only moved in in December 2012 we didn't manage to grow much in 2013 and the trees were all too young to produce anything. 2014 saw a lot more being grown but it wasn't until 2015 that all the beds were dug and trees started to produce anything worth weighing.

December is probably the worst month for looking at photos of the field but it is a good time to compare with what we started with.

December 2008
Click on Photos to see larger versions.

December 2015

December 2016

2015 saw us harvest nearly 500kg of food. 2016 has seen this increase to over 800kg with a lot of it being sold and although it is a lot of food it is still nowhere near enough to be anywhere near self sufficient, not that being self sufficient is a goal, but it does show just how much hard work and how much food is required for a family of 5. 

What we have learnt, for our situation at least, is being 100% organic and not using chemicals is simply not possible. Most of the potatoes, parsnips, beans were destroyed by slugs. Carrots and beetroot were destroyed by moles. The bean problem we recovered from after using slug pellets but it was too late for the others. Several hundred Kilograms of food were lost, or simply not grown. Potatoes and parsnip would have accounted for a large amount of food that could have been spread over months. We won't be suffering from slugs again, it is simply a waste of many hours work and loss of valuable food.

Sprouts, Cabbage, Broccoli and Cauliflower were also a total loss due to caterpillars. The loss of sprouts and cabbage was the worst since they are easily stored either on the plant or a freezer but this can be rectified without chemicals. Our netting failed. 

Had we avoided the big failures it would have made a huge difference in the amount of food available and this years total would have been around 1200kgs. Next years goal is to get around this total. This year we managed a 79% increase in harvested food, next year we need the same increase. This is easily possible and as the fruit trees get older I can see 1300 to 1500kg will be possible within a few years.

A bonus this year was the number of eggs we had from the 20 chickens. Enough to eat, make cakes and sell but unfortunately the chickens stopped laying somewhere around August when they started to moult. By the time they got their feathers back the number of hours daylight started to drop and they never started to lay again. Spending money feeding unproductive chickens opened up a new opportunity - meat. Slaughtering birds was a difficult job but one that we over came. By the time they were killed the meat had become tough, only good for casseroles cooked for a long time but the freezer has 8kg of chicken breast meat. This has shown that next year we can have chickens for eggs, then eat them before spending money feeding them through the autumn and winter. The chickens stopping laying also highlighted the fact that they may have become stressed with the heat of the summer, then by the mud as things got wetter. I have dozens of nut trees and more willow to plant around their pen to keep wind off, provide more shade and give them more of a woodland area. All these extra trees will hopefully keep more areas drier in the future as well as provide food for us in the form of nuts.

The field is filling up, becoming more of a garden but is still a wildlife garden. Plenty of messy untidy areas which is good for wildlife.

July 2013

July 2014

July 2015

July 2016

The summer time photos from each year certainly show the field filling up and trees growing. The Willow is particularly noticeable.

This year also saw us create our own jobs. We now have a market stall selling plants, fruit and veg and home made crafts. We also sell home made crafts that friends have made. This year was a test, we started late, in June, and didn't have much to sell but as the summer progressed and we had more crafts, jams and veg the sales went up but by the time we had a full market stall the weather had changed, summer had gone and the footfall in the market had plummeted. We have to stand there each week to keep our place on the market but also to keep regular customers coming back but there is very little money to be made when it is cold. All the earnings will need to come from late spring to late summer but next year we will start with a full stall to take better advantage of the busy period.

Living as we do, in a modern society, is a struggle, more of a fight, but we are moving forward. The struggles are for another post because society and the way it is set up is designed to stop our way of life and make every one conform and be consumers... 

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Slaughtering Chickens - not a nice subject. Don't view if squeamish!

Slaughtering Chickens - not a nice subject

You can't be self sufficient in a modern world, not without space and money, but we're well on our way to at least partly doing that. Most of of vegetables, some fruit, most of our eggs and now some of our meat.

Some jobs in the garden are enjoyable, some just plain tedious, others are hard work and some jobs just spring up from nowhere and are down right horrible. Killing chickens has just become one of those jobs.

The idea was simple enough, feed chickens, get eggs, repeat and the jobs a good one. Chickens stop laying when it's cold and dark, ours stopped laying early due to a moult and became expensive, then came winter. What do you do? Keep them for 5 months or so not laying and then carry on in the spring? The chicken area has become muddy, it's not nice, a lot of heavy chickens pacing around all day in mud and the grass goes. Just feeding them is a horrible job, drinking containers get muddy, their house gets muddy and it's impossible to get rid of 20 chickens mid winter.

Bird flu comes along, it's in the news, and even small chicken holders are expected to keep chickens indoors for 30 days at least. That just isn't possible, our chicken house is just for them to sleep in. If they all sat still happily there is enough room but with big birds constantly pecking each other trying to get out it seems cruel.

Killing 20 chickens is a lot of meat, and a lot of work. Disposal is also a problem and the amount of hours needed doesn't exist in our life just to drop everything and process in quantity like this. Plucking a bird is messy with feathers going everywhere, time consuming and these birds are tough meat. They are too old for normal chicken meat.

There is a compromise, as there always is, don't pluck them, and simply take the breast meat and freeze it.

I've done a few chickens like this over the last month but the act of killing them is hard, especially as a dead chicken carries on flapping away for a few minutes and the inexperienced person doesn't know if they have done it right. I've had a chat with a few experienced people....

You have to deal with it in a very matter of fact way, quickly and very organised.

Step 1. Feed the birds. Their heads go down and they are easy to approach and pick up.
Step 2. Pick one up, put it under the arm.
Step 3. Walk out of the pen, close the gate and walk to a killing area somewhere else in the garden.
Step 4. As you walk grab the neck of the calm bird and break it's neck by pulling and twisting. Keep the pressure on. There is no movement. Quickly and firmly with no real thought.
Step 5. In the killing / bloody area, put birds neck on a chopping block and with one blow take it's head off while holding it's feet. It should already be dead before the axe falls. Doing this demonstrates the bird is dead and now any flapping of the wings and legs is purely muscle spasms. Mentally it helps.
Step 6. Hold the bird firmly on the ground until it stops flapping. 1 or 2 minutes. 
Step 7. Walk away or get another bird and repeat. Leave them for 10 minutes and get you're head into the right place ready for the next step.
Step 8. Take the bird to a table and pluck just down the breast bone. 30 second job to expose the skin.
Step 9. Sharpe knife and cut the skin down the breast bone, pull skin away to expose the breast.
Step 10. Follow breast bone with knife and remove breast meat without damaging the organs. 2 minutes and both breasts are off.
Step 11. Bird in bin bag, then in bin.
Step 12. Take breast meat and rinse with cold water to remove any dirt or feathers.
Step 13. Put in a plastic bag and freeze.
Step 14. Clean all surfaces.

Life is real, this is where chicken meat comes, from and although this meat will be a bit tough from old birds compared to shop bought it isn't that tough and will soften up very nicely if cooked slowly in a pot or sliced up in small chucks. It's good value for money, doesn't waste all those birds and gets over a bird flu problem. Not to mention no need to feed unproductive birds. 

Dead chickens. Head removed.

Remove feathers to see and access breast.

2 birds, 4 breasts.

I know where my meat has come from!

A lot of people like the idea of having chickens for eggs and possibly for meat but the reality of having animals as part of a life style is that you need a way of dealing with them. You have to deal with death and any problems that arise such as bird flu and you need to just get on with it quickly.

Clearly by the look of the meat I'm no expert but that's another mile stone reached and practice will make perfect. So far 5 birds done in a couple of hours for 2.3kg of chicken breasts.

The last few chickens I will remove legs and perhaps pluck a whole bird to get much more meat but that involves more skills to be learnt.

What would you do with 20 chickens no one wants in winter? Keep them as pets?

Next spring we'll get a new flock and I think repeat the process, have the eggs until they stop laying, then have the meat. At £5 a bird plus feed the eggs pay for the birds and feed and the meat then turns a profit allowing us to get the chicken area re-grassed and turned back into a nice home for the next lot. 

Buying your chicken from Tescos or KFC is all well and good but is it good meat? Were the birds looked after and were they killed by someone who cared for them? How were they treated and what chemicals were they pumped full of? Living in a town or city and getting all your food prepacked in a very expensive way really does hide the reality of real food and where it comes from. Doing everything yourself teaches you an awful lot very very quickly and I think teaches you to appreciate your food more. 

Our birds were well looked after and died calmly while having a cuddle under my arm and they will be appreciated on the table.

Anyone else interested in keeping chickens for eggs and meat and doesn't know how or what to do just ask. I'm no expert but I have been there done that.  

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Muntjac wild deer

Muntjac wild deer

We have had the odd bit of shop bought venison before, even road kill, but the other day a friend had been hunting and had 4 wild deer. Normally he sells them to butchers and restaurants but this time he couldn't fit them all in his car in one go and so one was going begging, and fairly cheap. The deer had come from one of our local woods and had been properly gutted in the woods and hung for 2 days.

£30 delivered, although I was all for trying to attach it to the push bike, but he was going my way anyway.

We left it hanging for another couple of days as we tried to find the time to process it.

The first job is to skin it and with the River Cottage Game On DVD to hand we set to it. It was a lot more time consuming than I remember having last done a road kill deer some years ago.  We started early afternoon as a joint effort taking turns to remove the skin until the point came when the wife and kids had to go out leaving me to finish skinning and cutting the animal into quarters.

We made plenty of mistakes, cutting into the meat, but eventually the skin, feet and head were removed.

Almost Skinned
Once in quarters, plus 2 breasts, I had a table full of meat that could now be converted into cuts and sausage meat as well as stock and casserole meat.

The bottom of the photo shows the back legs / rump. The right is the forequarter with neck and legs. The top shows the back and in the middle are the 2 breasts.

The best meat is in the rump but the tender loin and loins looked good.

Having started around 1pm the clock showed 7pm and I still hadn't finished and something became obvious, namely that to make the most of a deer you really need a sausage making machine because the breast, ribs and forequarter and very sinewy and need mincing. We also made a couple of batches of stock.

It's now all in the freezer, although the rump steaks turned out to be mini rump steaks because when boning the meant I was left with a fair few small joints of meat. All in all we ended up with about 10 freezer bags of cuts.

Next job is to locate a sausage maker and buy some pig fat to wrap the joints in before cooking.

An experience! 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

50 Consecutive Days

50 Consecutive Days

Two months ago I embarked on a diet along with extra exercise and today marked the end of the first two months. The Psoriasis is still there, although better and still improving but so far it has been a very well worth while thing to do.

Exactly 1 Stone in weight lost. 14lb. Which is just over 1lb per week.

Perhaps the most demanding and hardest part was the idea of walking at least 6 miles per day. The first week I managed to walk 6 miles every other day but after that yesterday marked 50 consecutive days of walking those 6 miles with today continuing that to become 51 days. The idea seemed hard but the reality has been the opposite. It's been easy to fit 2 hours in, whether it is first thing in the morning, during the day or even in the dark, come rain or shine.

There has been the odd day, at 7am, or when it is raining, when I haven't wanted to go out but it's like over coming anything, it's only a few minutes of not wanting to go but once you get outside that bit has been cracked. Once in a while, when legs are aching, half a mile in, the idea of another 5.5 miles doesn't sound fun but it doesn't take much to force yourself to the 3 mile point and then there is no way of failing as you have to finish.

I was already fairly fit, but pushing yourself harder is made all the easier when your weight is coming down. Not only does it easier as you get fitter week on week but it gets much easier when you weigh less each week, since there is simply less to carry around. It's almost the same a carrying 1 bag less of sugar each week and after 2 months it's the same as not carrying 6 bags of sugar compared to the first week. That's a lot of weight less!

In just 2 months I've lost over 8% of my body weight plus put on leg muscle but reading alsorts of web sites the ideal weight for a normal person of my height is between 110 and 140lb and I started this at 171lb. I can't see myself losing 30lb to get to the top of that range because the amount of exercise I do in normal life means I've probably got more muscle than average but it's clear that there is still more to come off. Perhaps another 7lb.

At the current rate of losing weight there is still another month to go. Will it be possible to go 80 days of consecutively walking 6 miles on top of my normal exercise?

The last 2 months have seen me average 20,000 steps per day on the pedometer, and my best month in the last 2 years before that was an average of 16,000. The average for the rest of the year is between 12,000 and 14,000 steps so the last 2 months have seen a big increase.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Curing Psoriasis through Diet

Curing Psoriasis through Diet

The last couple of years I have been using a Pedometer on my phone to measure the number of steps I do each day. It takes a few changes to daily routines to make it accurate, such as always keeping the phone in a pocket and you have to set it up correctly and regularly adjust the sensitivity so it doesn't count steps when in a vehicle, but that's now become a standard habit. It counts every step whether I'm walking or gardening. The accuracy can be argued about but when you only compare it to yourself rather than anyone else, each day, it is an accurate account of all physical movement that you do. Any inaccuracy, such as mine reads between 1 and 10% low on any given check of 100 foot steps, doesn't matter because it's the same day in day out.

Last year I averaged 14,000 steps a day for the 1st six months of the year. I didn't bother to do it for the 2nd half of the year because I thought I had a good reflection of the exercise I was getting for the whole year. This year I decided to keep it going every day, through both halves of the year and I was struck by how much less I did during the summer. All the extra gardening, although a lot of effort, was a lot less physical activity compared to the cooler months when I go bush beating for local shoots and also when I go out for walks, just for the sake of it. The summer I find is too hot to walk. 

As I get older, the weight it piling on, despite being very active. My diet is truly balanced. Lots of fruit, lots of vegetables, lots of meat and lots of junk and of course a lot of processed food. That's been the problem, lots of everything. Too much of everything. No amount of physical exercise (unless you're an athlete) can burn off all those calories. Add that to age, when everything you do is just that little bit slower and bit by bit you get fat. The fatter you get the slower you get and each footstep burns less calories because you take it easier.

Something needed to be done.

2nd October 2016
Psoriasis is an Auto Immune System problem where the immune system attacks the body. In this case it shows up on the skin. Skin cells grow and die within a couple of days, maybe 3 or 4 days. The redness is inflammation and although it shows up mainly on the arms and legs clearly it also affects the  scalp, wrists, hands and finger nails. The white bits are dead skin that simply flake of leaving piles of dusty dead skin every where I sit.

I've had this condition for years now. Probably since birth, but, it only shows up when something triggers it. In my case it's stress, and it is obvious. I get stressed and 2 days later the skin is much worse. In theory de-stressing makes it better but it is such a slow process when it improves that another burst of stress always comes along before the skin heals.

The first 4 years I had this it just got worse. Doctors prescribe steroids and plenty of Aqueous Cream / Moisturiser. Loads of different creams failed to have any affect although they can ease the itching and stop the skin from cracking and bleeding but simply haven't worked. I am against taking drugs like steroids because they have side effects and if they aren't working need to be stopped.

The Internet is a wonderful source of information and allows you to read up on conditions like this and pull hundreds of different people's ideas together and learn a lot more. Several Doctors that I have seen clearly have limited knowledge about the subject. They are just General Practitioners after all. Jacks of all trades, masters of none, and because they work they can't spend a lot of time learning. Their skills often don't keep up with modern and new thinking and just like the rest of us have their opinions are set early in their career and they often become narrow minded and closed to many new ideas.

After spending a week reading about many other people's experience and thoughts about Psoriasis, as well as scientific papers, it became obvious to me that Psoriasis isn't a skin problem. It shows up on the skin but only because you can't see inside the body. It is, without doubt, a systemic problem. It effects all of the body.

Firstly, no matter who you are, it affects you mentally. When you see your problem only getting worse you can't help but regularly think about it. It itches, keeping the problem at the forefront of your mind. It hurts when you haven't applied skin cream and sometimes I can just flex my wrist and the skin splits and bleeds. You scratch at night and rip huge amounts of skin off causing more pain and blood on the sheets. Then you pay for something in the shops and you notice people dropping money into your hand from an inch or two above which often makes the money fall on the floor. Some people think you are contagious. You read in the press someone has been ejected from a swimming pool because of it, so you don't go swimming. All this causes anxiety and more stress.

A lot of people with Psoriasis also get a version of Arthritis causing painful joints, I have this. Extra pain, extra stress. Some studies have shown that Psoriasis causes heart problems because Arteries become hardened, just the thought of this causes stress.

The knee and just below
My Doctor said that diet wouldn't make a difference because I already ate all the food groups and did plenty of exercise but all my reading up on the subject suggested this was too simplistic an answer.

I changed my diet and went onto an anti-inflammatory diet. One designed for people with Arthritis. I modified this to include Vitamin D tablets and an Ibuprofen tablet each day. The diet removed most fats and oils and added in nut oil for cooking and plenty of oily fish. I also stopped eating anything from the Nightshade family (Tomatoes and Potatoes). Within 4 days I could see and feel difference. Within 2 weeks it was obvious to everyone else it was much better. Within 6 to 8 weeks it was cured. After 4 years of it just getting worse with Doctors help and steroids I had cleared it up rapidly. I then went back to my normal diet and the skin remained fine for over a year. The Doctor refused to believe it was the diet.

Of course, it came back but before it got bad I went back on to this diet and it worked again.

There is a big problem with this type of diet. It is very difficult to stick to, isn't enjoyable and includes Ibuprofen which long term can cause lots of problems. The diet misses out lots of beneficial food and isn't balanced. It isn't a long term answer and I don't like fad diets. What it did do is not only fix the problem short term but helped a lot mentally. My subconscious now knew that I had a way of stopping it. That's a lot less stress. The effects of the Psoriasis are back again. The photos above are what it is currently like. I have allowed it to progress for quite a while because I was no longer quite so concerned about it and I like all food but it has now developed to a bad enough extent that once again I am concerned.

With my weight becoming an issue, my age beginning to take it's toll and realising that all the gardening and exercise I was doing in the summer not being quite as much as I had thought, I stumbled upon a documentary film on Netflix called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. It is basically about a fat man realising he was too fat and went on a juicing diet. Just Fruit and Vegetables juiced for 2 months. The film was quite inspiring and although I felt what he did was a tad extreme (he missed out too many things from his diet), he did coin the phrase and idea of giving your body or diet a "reboot" and removing all processed food from the diet. He also mentioned that his auto immune system skin problem had been cured.

Carrots, Grapes, Apple, Cucumber, Tomato
I decided to give this idea of a reboot a try. Just juice. The idea is to try and refocus the diet to train you to eat more fruit and veg, stop snacking, and remove as much processed food as possible. I decided to widen the idea so that I would tie in much more exercise every day and take notice of all the scientific reports that studies show what and how you should eat. After one or 2 days of constant cravings I developed bad headaches which lasted almost 2 days. The head aches were interesting. They were caused by Caffeine withdrawal which just goes to show that caffeine has a huge effect on the brain, quite what the effect is I don't know, but the effect is big. If it causes such a big effect coming off of it it must be having a big effect while you're on it.

The next effect I noticed was caused by the "fad" part of the diet. Just fruit and Vegetables isn't good enough. I know many people think being a vegetarian or Vegan is good but the effect I noticed is that I simply wasn't able to do as much exercise. At the beginning of the diet I decided that I would walk 6 miles a day on top of my normal day. I walk when ever it suits me. I didn't push myself hard, it was just a gentle walk but by the end of the week I was getting half way and I had no energy. I wasn't just tired, I know that feeling, this was very different, I had nothing left and was feeling faint.

Grape, Celery, Tomato, Spinach
I modified the diet. Added to just juice I now have a tin of fish (Tuna or Mackerel) once a week. On another day I have a slab of cheese. I also relaxed the just juice bit to include non juiced fruit and veg. When ever I feel hungry or tired I eat a raw carrot or two or pickup a banana or apple. Still the diet is 90% fruit and veg but added is oily fish and calcium from the cheese. Exercise levels, distance and speed then rocketed. The first week I average 10 to 12,000 steps a day. By the end of the 2nd week I was averaging 18,000 steps a day with it feeling easy. Already I am walking the 6 miles 20 minutes faster and thoroughly enjoying it. The walking isn't getting in the way of doing anything else. I have found an extra 2 hours in every day. That's 2 hours less sitting down.

The Psoriasis hasn't had the huge improvement I had hoped for but it has got better. It hasn't got worse, which I know it would have done, and is maybe 10 or 20% better. This may be because during the last month my ex partner of 7 years and mother to my eldest daughter died of a brain tumour causing a lot of stress and anxiety but this doesn't account for the slow speed of the improvement to the skin compared to my previous diets. The diet is helping the skin though.

It's now been almost a month of this diet. After 28.5 days of the diet I have lost 8lbs in weight, put on a lot more leg muscle (so fat loss has been a good bit more than 8lb) and have gone down 2 belt holes. I have walked a minimum of 6 miles every day, with 2 walks of over 12 miles, and the number of steps for the month is already up to 541,000 with 2 days still to go. My previous best month in the last 2 years was 483,000.

I have modified the diet again slightly and now allow myself a normal meal with the rest of the family twice a week including chicken or even pizza or pasta.

What the film, "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead" has done is to introduce a formal walk into my day, retrain me to basing my diet on fruit and veg, stopped snacking, reduced my weight, increased my fitness to a level not seen for 25 years as well as ease my Psoriasis. It has been a "reboot" as described in the film. The only thing now banned from my diet is regular processed food, although I will still allow it as a treat. The weight is still reducing and skin still improving. It has been a lifestyle change.

My next challenge is to focus more on the Psoriasis and see if I can get the huge improvement that the previous anti-inflammatory diet achieved. The first step will be to add in Vitamin D. I now think that it will be helped by the addition of something into the diet rather than the removal of something. The addition of Vitamin D might just be what's missing. If that fails maybe Ibuprofen but hopefully not. It might be also that the diet would have had the dramatic effect but for the stressful death. More time on that front is needed. It might also be the addition of a few years of age since my last attempt to cure Psoriasis and maybe I have to accept that fixing it with diet may just take 6 months now rather than 6 weeks. Maybe something else but diet and more exercise has certainly been beneficial and I now have a diet and exercise that fits in nicely with my lifestyle which I think is the key thing with a must be part of a lifestyle and not simply something you do once to lose weight.

2 years ago my blood pressure was an OK, 120 / 80 and I know it has been that for about 20 years. Now it is averaging 107 / 72 when checked every day. 2 years ago my Cholesterol was 6.0 when tested as part of my MOT, a few months ago I had it checked, after more exercise, and it went down to 5.1. I think it may be well below that now. I'll get that checked again before Christmas.

The film had a doctor explain that half an hour of exercise per day would help stop your arteries from clogging with Cholesterol and an hour per day would help reduce it. Over the last month I have averaged over 3 hours of exercise per day. I'm rather hoping this will help rectify the horrible diet and lack of exercise that the whole of my 20's saw. My 30's were better but not good and it took me until my 40's to have a good lifestyle.

As I approach 50, I'm rather hoping all this exercise and diet will keep me in good health because seeing someone die well well before their time certainly brings home that early death and poor health is not an option I wish to take.  

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Elephant Garlic

Elephant Garlic

I thought that I would try Elephant Garlic this year. I found a farm on Ebay that sells "rounds" or Garlic. These are huge bulbs, or single cloves, that haven't split into individual cloves.

Elephant Garlic "Rounds"
They need to be planted before Christmas but anytime from October onward, ie now. In the photo there is one normal garlic on the right which, before it dried out, was what I thought of as a large garlic. The 10 rounds weighed 1kg! 

I'm going to plant a couple in the poly-tunnel and the rest outside so I can compare what would be the best place for them should I grow them in future years.

Being bigger, milder, they should be better for roasting and a lot less hassle peeling loads of small normal cloves.

I have also just read that they aren't a true garlic but a stem leek and having never tried them before I'll be very interested in how they taste. We eat a lot of garlic plus I think these may sell well on the market stall, since they are different and I haven't seen them for sale in local super markets.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The harvest so far...

The harvest so far, and the problems of storage...

I had high hopes for this year, hoping for 600 upto 750kg of produce for the year, but early failures of many things caused by slugs, frost etc meant that it was looking like it was going to be a poor year. Potatoes, Beetroot, Parsnip almost wiped out by slugs. I also forgot to plant several varieties of Squashes but as time went on things started to look better until the herbicide problem in the manure which caused many many tomato and cape gooseberry plants to fail.

Since deciding to sell produce on the market the problems started to look disastrous, nowhere near the amount of plants to sell as I'd hoped plus with tomatoes, potatoes, beetroot and parsnip decimated sales were going to be thin on the ground.
As it turns out the market stall has been going well. It was always going to be a test to see if we could make money but the year was set aside as a learning process. Lots of things have been learnt even down to how to set up a stall much quicker (I built shelving trays so I could half setup at home as I loaded the produce into the van). The hour long setup is now down to 40 minutes plus tinkering while the stall is quiet and packing away is now down to 20 minutes from what was a tiring hour to begin with. Setting up quicker has meant less rush at 5:30am. We have also cut the harvesting the day before down a lot, time wise, so Mondays are no longer quite sostressful. If we keep going like this then the stall will become far easier. Baking the ckes for the market is a bit of a time problem as all the kids have to be out of the way, kitchen cleaned, floor moped etc and then they all need space and time to cool and then bag. This means everything has to be done late at night, but they are selling very well. As well as the fruit and veg, and home made crafts cakes are proving to be one of our best sellers. Lemon Drizzle and Rock cakes are sold in packets of for each, and we are regularly selling between 8 and 14 packets on a Tuesday morning. 117 packets sold so far in the last 12 market days. That's 468 homemade cakes sold since we started.  This time next year, Rodney we'll be ....

With the ups and downs of trying to produce food to eat and food to sell the Cabbage white butterflies moved in. Our netting failed, then two 4 or 5 day holidays within about a month meant the caterpillars totally destroyed all the Sprouts and Kale. Moles then wiped out most of the carrots in beds then the cats started to use the freshly planted beetroot and radish beds as litter trays. I thought all the possible problems we could face had happened but there was one more surprise. The chickens, all 22 of them, have stopped laying. From a high of 18 eggs per day (126 per week) we have been down to about 5 over this last week. They can't be burnt out since a friend has the same chickens, bought at the same time from the same place, is still getting his normal quota.  Today I will clean their house and pen area out as thoroughly as I can. Need to find the cause of this!

Lots of learning curves!

Despite all this the harvest has already surpassed last years total of 460kg (although it was a bit higher as in the final months I forgot to record some Leeks, Beetroot and a few other things).  As of today we are upto 509kg with a lot still to come in. Last year September and October saw the biggest weights of harvest and we're only just into the first week of September with loads of Sweetcorn, Leeks, Apples, Celery, Chard, Tomatoes and Runner beans still to be harvested. I can see this year edging toward 800kg with the only growing space that has increased being the chicken pen.

Rouge vif d'etampes
Today, to create space, I harvested the rest of the early pumpkins. This type are ready from August and I have already been selling them on the market stall. I have noticed that the ones I have picked carried on ripening off of the plant so hopefully the rest will even out their colour since some are still a bit yellow where they were touching the soil. Although these can be used for soup and roasting the main point of them was for Halloween. Another lesson to be learnt maybe that they will prove to be too early to last until then but hopefully they can be stored until the end of October ready for carving and selling as lanterns. Time will tell.

The largest pumpkin is nearly 18kg and although we have the same amount of plants and the same quantity of pumkins, but different types as last year, the weight has been massively more. Last year saw 65kg, this year it has been 210kg. They have averaged 11kg each. Not all of them are shown in the photo as some have been sold for soup.

We have been picking the runners small and tender and they have been selling really well. We sell them in bunches of 250 to 300g bundles. So far over 10kg have been sold. We have also made Pickle and Chutney from them, as well as eaten a load, and have sold a few jars but even so that only equates to 30% of the harvest. We now need to freeze a load and make many more jars for selling over the winter. The 120 runner bean plants have so far produced over 50kg and our main problem is that we can't keep up with the harvesting and turning into pickle. A 4 day holiday resulting in coming back to pick 11.5kg in one go before they got too stringy and there is clearly going to be another 10 or 20kg to harvest over the next week or so. At this rate I think each plant will yield around 500 to 600g. Our production bottle neck is now lack of jars so a quick order is going in. Up until now we have recycled jars but we just don't have enough that fit the lids we bought.

The general idea was to fill up the freezer with things we couldn't process quickly. A great plan, until the 3 freezers filled up. We have so much fruit in from last year that we can't fit the beans in. The theory was to empty the fruit out of the freezer by now and make jam, but harvesting, the market stall and holidays and just general living has meant there has been no time for this. We now have the problem of needing to make loads of jam just so we can free up freezer space while at the same time needing to process the beans before they spoil. A larder fridge is full of beans as well as the 11kg bucket in the photo.

Another problem to solve for next year are courgettes. They sell really well as baby courgettes but since we only have a Tuesday market stall we can only pick on Mondays to keep them really fresh. A week old courgette isn't good enough to sell which means a lot of the courgettes grow too big within a week. We have had 25kg of courgettes but the bigger ones just don't sell so I think we'll need to have more plants next year and waste a lot of the bigger ones just so I can get more smaller ones. Raspberries pose a similar problem. We don't have enough freezer space to store them and they need to be picked the day before selling which makes all the ones that have ripened during the week before Tuesday a problem. The theory is simple, just make jam from them or buy another freezer but making jam is time consuming and it needs to be done at the same time as runner beans need to be turned into pickle and just how many freezers can you have?

The harvesting and growing despite all the problems is the easy bit it now turns out. Selling the produce isn't all that difficult either but time to process and store all the harvest is a problem. The freezer issue will be resolved, we will get a large chest freezer but that won't answer all the problems because as soon as we start to fill that freezer things like sweetcorn need to be harvested and stored. We are too small a seller to sell everything in one go but I can see that we can sell 100 cobs, which is what we will end up with but only a few of these can be sold each week, the rest will need to be turned into sweetcorn relish or frozen for us to eat.

As it turns out, growing your own food, selling some to make money is the easy bit, it's the logistics of managing the produce which is where we need to concentrate all efforts and that's an area we have given almost no thought to until now. So far I've spent a lot of hours stressing over pests, stressing over who will water the plants while we're on holiday as well as stressing about re digging and preparing beds for the next batch of plants to go in and getting depressed about herbicide damaging loads of plants as well as worrying about the amount of weeds, when in truth none of this mattered since a lot of stuff will go to waste because we can't store and process it in a timely manner. All the thought and worry has gone into the wrong areas.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Seeking Inspiration

Seeking Inspiration

Once in a while I like to take on a project and last time I got inspired by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall's a Cook on the Wild Side, and specifically an episode about a Coracle boat, so I built one. That led to being inspired to build a canoe after watching a programme with Ray Mears about building a Birch Bark Canoe.

When building something I never do it the same as someone else so things get done my way, with the design evolving out of my head as I go along.

This time I'm trying to inspire myself by building another canoe only this time based upon my canvas Coracle but having the shape of a canoe. A canvas covered canoe. Nothing new, it's been done before, but not by me, and I'll be making it up as I go along. All based upon pictures of what other people have done plus by reviewing my own creations to give me the confidence to just have a go.

Last time, in 2012, I built a Coracle just to see if I could and to see if I had what it takes to start a project and finish it. Once I had proved to my self that I could do it I then moved on to the canoe. I get a lot of enjoyment out of reviewing photos as it brings back all the memories needed to motivate me. Before building the Coracle I had never made anything out of wood / material before. 

The Coracle started life as one piece of 3 or 4 mm Plywood. Cheap internal grade stuff just cut into strips and woven together to form a basket. The pieces needed to be steamed in order to bend them carefully into shape. The steamer was nothing more than one you may have seen for steam cleaning your kitchen, hand held with a nozzle that pumped out steam.

Before long it started to look like a basket. A simple seat was added.
Glued together, varnished to make it a bit more able to handle water.
Wrapped in canvas.
Painted with Bitchumen paint.
A long paddle was made and then it was tested. Very difficult to drive in a straight line but mission accomplished!

Next the canoe. A bit more adventurous, all made from 5 planks of wood sawn into strips and glued together with the basic shape made by bending the wood around "formers".
I forget how many strips where glued together but 70 or 80. The boat is made upside down at this stage.
The bottom was built up.
Heavily Varnished to make it waterproof.
The Varnish gave it a nice golden colour. 14 foot long with a front and rear deck with a little door inserted so that I could attach an electric motor should I desire.
A few more photos because I think it looks good.
My attempt at an arty shot :)
And of course the maiden voyage! It worked perfectly but the main problem was the weight. Although I could lift it above my head in order to put it on and off of the car it was 96 lb in weight and age is catching up with me hence the need to make another one but much lighter. A canvas covered one that should be half the weight.
As much as I liked it, storing it was a problem and living out doors it started to buckle so I gave it away to a friend who still uses it but has a barn to keep it in.

The canvas one will have to be a bit shorter, maybe 12ft long, without decks.

The thing that has stopped me from making a canvas canoe has been the price of water proofing the canvas with the proper stuff, the name of which escapes me, and Bitchumen paint gets sticky and black doesn't look good, but recently I've read about someone who uses exterior grade green paint to seal the canvas with which sounds like a far better alternative.

The wooden canoe took about 300 hours, many beers, but was under £120. A canvas canoe will hopefully be around the same price.

I think I've inspired myself enough now to make a start!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Large odd tomato

Large odd tomato

I've watched a large tomato ripen and unfortunately my labelling isn't up to much and the plants labels faded in the sun and I can't remember what they are, but this one has grown so much more than anything else. The fruit has grown around the truss and only one other fruit got pollinated on that same truss. The photo shows the large tomato, which has 3 lobes to it, next to (left) the other one of normal size for the plant. To the right is a large Gardener's Delight tomato for comparison.

356g for one tomato!

Admittedly the 356g includes a bit of stalk which the tomato has grown around but none the less it's huge, deformed and there's a bit of scab on it. It wasn't a beef stake type tomato.

The photo doesn't actually do the size or weight of this thing justice and the Gardener's Delight tomato on the right is a large tomato.

I don't know if 3 tomatoes fused together when they were young or whether it is just a freak single one but it's impressive either way!

It stands 8 cm tall and is 10 cm wide and although it may look like 3 stuck together you can trace a single skin all the way around, which makes it physically one tomato. You can see that the right hand side is definitely one piece and the left is joined to the right at the back.

How big and heavy can tomatoes get! The Gardener's Delight on the right is 28g.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Runner bean & fruit chutney

Runner bean & fruit chutney

With the colossal amount of Runner Beans this year we're having to find ways of dealing with them. Some we sell on the market stall, some we eat, some we will no doubt freeze but that still leaves an awful lot of beans to deal with. 

We made a dozen jars, of varying size, of Runner Bean Pickle last week. It was OK but the final texture was wrong. A bit runny, perfectly OK but rather too thin on the liquid side so this week I was determined to do better. Although the pickle was nice, and I sold a couple of jars, I wanted to liven it up a bit with some fruit.

I wanted to add raisins, but during today I had to stake some apple trees to support their branches and it became clear that some apples had to come off. They are sweet and juicy and although they are supposed to be ready in September the one I ate was perfect. This gave me another problem of what to do with them...some of them have gone into the Chutney. There was also the last few sticks of Rhubarb left in the fridge, they've gone a bit soft, and now added to the mix.

The Chutney started life as a standard Runner bean pickle / chutney recipe, the same as Judy's, but has now become Runner Bean and Fruit Chutney, although I'm torn between calling it Chutney or Sweet Pickle.

As you can see, I prefer chunky pieces rather than small and I'm rather chuffed with the texture. The Apple, Onions and Beans still have a little crunch to them and the sauce, although runny, is more of a thick gloop (technical term). It's perfect edible now without maturing and no doubt it'll improve with a few months under it's belt.

The five jars the recipe said that it would make has turned into 7 jars, 2 big, 2 small and 3 standard 1 lb jars.

I added 2 sticks of de-stringed Rhubarb, 4oz of Raisins and 3 medium apples. I never stick perfectly to a recipe and instead of 1.5 pints of Malt Vinegar I opted for White Wine Vinegar (only because I had it) which was left over from making the Runner bean pickle from last week. It's actually the juice I siphoned off of the runny batch so it already had Termeric in it as well as sugar. As for the Corn flour, Termeric and Mustard powder made into a paste, I doubled up on each because my recipe had this extra amount plus I was at the end of the Termeric jar so just tipped the rest in. 

What I have learnt from doing several Pickles and Chutneys now is that Onion, Vinegar and Sugar combined is such a powerful flavour that you can just guess the amounts and vary it enormously before you'll notice a difference. I think they are best added gradually as it all cooks and just keep tasting it and applying more to get the texture right.

There's the odd air pocket despite poking them with a needle type thing.

The size of the chunks can be seen compared to the tea spoon and the more I look at it the more I want a curry....

I still have 3kg of beans left in the fridge and what I am guessing will be another 10kg plus on the plants by the time they finish. So, more pickle or chutney variations are required if I am to deal with the glut.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Cheap Poly Tunnel

Cheap Poly Tunnel

Last year we bought a cheap Poly Tunnel. Often cheap means rubbish but in this case, considering the size and what you can do with it, cheap means excellent value for money.

The tunnel we got from Ebay, new, starts at around £200, then as they sell them, goes down in price. We got it when it was about £130 including postage. But at present it has just gone under £100. For a 6m by 3m tunnel it is incredible how they can make, almost certainly ship across the world, pay import duties, make a profit by selling it and include the postage price. They have sold thousands.

It was easy to install, definitely within the day, with most of that time taken to dig a trench for it to sit in and then bolt together.

The draw back, but I don't know how much more expensive ones cope, is wind. It doesn't like wind, but in a sheltered spot is fine.

Ours started to flap a bit in high winds, but I meant to secure it and for got and it tore, so had to replace to cover but even a replacement cover came in at only £60 approx. Secured better, and with a few wooded posts placed inside to stop it moving it has been OK since. It'll be interesting to see what freezing temperatures and snow do to it over the winter but the manufactures say take it down for winter. If you did that it'd only take half an hour to pull the cover off and another hour to put back on but I want to leave it up. If it does get damaged in the winter I think another £60 investment would be worth doing each year if necessary.

It has probably been the best very cheap thing I've every bought, especially when you consider my friend spent £1500 on one. His is far more sturdy and a bit bigger, obviously much better but is it worth the extra £1300? His doesn't have windows to open to control the heat and is semi clear plastic making it get extremely hot on a blazing hot day where as this cheap one has green reinforcing plastic strips all the way through it which acts as a little bit of shading, so I think there are swings and round-a-bouts because his probably lets in more light but at the end of the day they both do the same thing, provide a large, warm area in which to grow.

As long as you can provide it with shelter and are prepared to replace the cover once in a while, maybe add the odd wooden post for more strength, then this very cheap tunnel is worth buying.

The posts in the photo on the front left and right of the tunnel, and in the centre are so I can put a wooden bar across to stop the large door from flapping in the wind. The trellising to the right is also a wind break, but also to hide it a bit and to section it off from the rest of the garden.
  So far, I'm very impressed with it!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Mole Deterrents and Flower Success

Mole Deterrents and Flower Success 

I'm plagued by moles at present. I've had them for a few years and I've always seen them as helping me with the drainage. Even the odd mole hill in the lawn isn't a problem, but recently, despite the cats catching and killing several moles they have now entered most vegetable beds and a Raspberry bed. The final straw was when they appeared in the Poly Tunnel. Enough is enough and it's time they moved 20 yards up the field.

I bought 4 mole deterrent spikes. They simply emit an ultra sonic noise or buzz that is supposed to upset them so they move away from the noise. That's the theory.... After a few days, probably not long enough to make an informed decision, but the pack said effective from 3 days, I'm not totally convinced about their effectiveness. 

Outside the tunnel
Admittedly the spike had come out and I poked it back in for a better photo but the hill did appear exactly where I had placed the deterrent :)

I'm a bit more concerned with the damage they are doing in the poly tunnel.

They have dug up the paths along the borders but have also moved into the centre bed.

Inside the poly tunnel
The paths were all hay but all along the borders on both sides they have made tunnels just under the surface.

Since the soil around the field is compacted clay they are targeting the areas I have dug. The small beech hedge bed has also seen mole hills all along it.

Small Beech hedge
Yet again a hill appeared exactly where the deterrent was place. Small hills have appear under the hay.

On a more positive note my first attempt at a more formal flower bed around the Pergola seems to have worked. Runner beans up the sides, Sun flowers in the next outside row then Cosmos and some Marigolds on the outside row on all 3 sides. 2 Grape vines on the back 2 corners complete the plantings with a few self seeded Nasturtium throughout the bed and the odd self seeded tomato.

The grass hasn't been cut in this area yet but it is now a self contained sheltered seating area as opposed to being exposed.

Looking from the back corner the Sun flowers and Cosmos haven't finished producing all their flowers but they are coming along nicely.

One of the sides looks better than the others. The Sun flowers are from bird seed so I had no idea about the size or type of them and they have turned out to be small to medium in height.

Click on photos for larger images.

With all the failures this year due to slugs and now a caterpillar onslaught starting, not to mention the havoc of the moles, it's nice to have something turn out as I wanted. The Grape vines are only in their second year (in the ground although they were a year or 2 old in the pot before) and can't easily be seen but they are almost upto the top of the pergola. With the rate they are growing, in all directions, within a year or 2 I won't need runner beans to enclose the structure.