Sunday, 20 April 2014

Changed plans for Easter Sunday

Today the plan was to pop to the car boot sale, come home, do a few jobs in the potting shed and then drive down to Essex to visit friends for an Easter lunch.

I cancelled the visit on Friday as we both had colds and thought it wasn't fair to spread them around. We abandoned the car boot idea for the same reason plus the weather was grey, with a very cold East wind and threatening rain.
I didn't bother to stand out in the shed potting up plants and sowing seeds because it was so cold  and the forecast is better for tomorrow.
Instead I did the Tax Forms. OH SUCH FUN!
We both do self-employed short forms as we earn less than £79,000! - A lot less! And we can keep them simple because all we have to put down is what comes in, what goes out and any other income from investment interest and paid work other than self-employment. It's not a difficult form to fill in as long as you've kept receipts, records of income and worked it out month by month through the year. Which I do.
So they are ready to post and neither of us will pay income tax this year as our profits were under the threshold.
Meanwhile C was working in the poly-tunnels out of the wind

Then we lit the living room fire and settled down for a quiet afternoon. I had fun spending my birthday gift voucher on Amazon. C watched the highlights of the Grand Prix.

There is another boot sale tomorrow so hopefully it will be less cold and when we get back I shall get busy potting up the squash plants, sorting out the small brassica plants and planting the nasturtiums, sweet peas and snap dragon plants into tubs and the garden. Should keep me busy.

Come back tomorrow and see if the day went as planned.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Growing towards Self Sufficiency in the Veg and Fruit garden

Several folk out there in blogland are interested in growing their own fruit and vegetables, which is something we've been doing on a gradually larger scale since 1979.

Several years ago we held a training day here on this subject for the Suffolk Smallholders Society and I printed out some handouts with ideas. Luckily I found I still had this on a memory stick, so a bit of copying over, some deleting and up dating and here we have it. You are welcome to copy any of this if you think it would be useful.( Transferring some of it has left strange spaces that are not on my editing page - no idea why)

 Firstly a Few Ideas and Tips based on our experiences

  •   Only grow what you like
  •  Trial and error will show what does well in your garden
  • Start small, with a little of each. (For instance it took 6 house moves and a tractor before we could even think about growing all our main-crop potatoes)
  • Some things are much easier to grow than others are and you might find some veg.  are just not worth the effort. For example carrots are hopeless here, we grow only a few. They are very cheap and good quality when bought so our time and land is best put to other uses. We also sometimes have problems growing some brassicas from seed so regularly buy starter plants by post as well as growing from seed. We no longer grow peas as we would need several beds to grow enough. Frozen peas are often better quality than you can grow yourself. At one time we grew lots of beans for drying but neither of us can tolerate them any more.
  •  Find ways to protect from pests, this will save a lot of frustration! For example rabbit netting, fleece, insect netting. Organic sprays and slug pellets.
  •  Find a good book on vegetable gardening. Borrow lots from the library and see which you think is best for you.
  • Ring and order lots of different seed catalogues. These are usually out in October. The information in them can be very useful
  • We have found that a greenhouse is handy, two ( and now three because we sell so many tomatoes) polytunnels are better than one, self-watering systems are good but not in our hard water area and an electric propagator is really useful. BUT it was 18 years before we had all of these and we were successfully growing lots of vegetable without them.
  •  Growing in beds makes planning and all work easier. We have grown in the traditional way but find beds much better for us.
  •  Most soft fruit crops are easy to grow. If you buy from a reputable company they will send you growing instructions with the plants.

Growing for self-sufficiency means eating with the seasons so in a “perfect year” this would be our vegetable menu. ( In brackets are other things that could be available)

January - Onions and potatoes from store, leeks, parsnips, swedes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbages from the ground. Broad beans and sweetcorn from the freezer. Winter lettuce from the poly tunnel.

(You could also be harvesting celeriac, celery, kale, turnips, chicory and eating dried beans)

February – As above

March – Onions and potatoes from store, leeks, chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbages from the ground plus lettuces from the polytunnel. Broad beans from the freezer.

(You could also be harvesting celeriac, chicory, kale, spinach)

April – Onions and potatoes from store, leeks and the last of the winter greens from the ground plus first of the over wintered cauliflower. The first asparagus. Chard and spinach. Lettuces, beetroot, spring onions and radishes from the polytunnel. Broad beans from the freezer. 

(You could also be harvesting celeriac, chicory,)

May – May is the real hungry gap month so only over wintered cauliflower, the last few leeks, asparagus, chard and spinach from the garden plus potatoes and onions from store, lettuces and radishes and spring onions from the polytunnel.

(You could be harvesting  spring cabbage, chicory.)

June - First half of the month as above. Then towards the end of June all the following start to be ready: - Broad beans, courgettes, cucumbers, carrots, peas and beetroot. The over wintered onions and the first of the early potatoes replace the old stored crops.

(You could also be harvesting chicory, kohlrabi)

July – All vegetables above plus runner beans, tomatoes, sweet peppers.

(You could also be harvesting globe artichokes, summer cabbage, chicory, kohlrabi, turnips.)

August – As June and July above plus sweetcorn, aubergines, chilli peppers

(You could also be harvesting globe artichokes, summer cabbage, chicory, kohlrabi)

September – Marrows, tomatoes, calabrese, chard, cucumbers, lettuces, beetroot, carrots, aubergines, peppers, runnerbeans, pumpkins, squash, maincrop potatoes and onions.

(You could also be harvesting globe artichokes, celeriac, celery, chicory, kohlrabi, late peas, turnips)

October – Potatoes and onions from store, last of the runner beans, peppers, lettuce, autumn cauliflower, chard, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, marrow, carrots, beetroot and pumpkin.

(You could also be harvesting early Brussels sprouts and cabbage, celeriac, celery, chicory, fennel, kohlrabi, turnip)

November  - Potatoes, pumpkins, onions and squash from store, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, leeks and cabbages.
(You could also be harvesting Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, swedes, turnips)

December – Potatoes onions and squash from store, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, leeks and parsnips and swedes from the ground. Broad beans and sweetcorn from the feezer. Dried beans from store.
(You could also be harvesting Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, swedes, turnips)

 A Year round fruit supply?

This is more difficult to achieve. Here is our list in a perfect year.

January – Cooking apples from store.( fruit from freezer)

February- as above

March - Rhubarb – forced by covering (  plus any fruit  left in freezer)

April  - as above ( plus any fruit left in freezer)

May  - Rhubarb ( plus any fruit left in freezer)

June – Strawberries, gooseberries and early raspberries

July – Gooseberries, redcurrants, late strawberries and raspberries( sometimes cherries)

August – Blackcurrants, redcurrants, plums, wild blackberries and early apples.(sometimes apricots)

September – Wild blackberries. Autumn raspberries, apples, figs, pears  and late plums

October – Apples and quince

November – Apples from store

December –Apples from store

The variety of fruit available could be  extended  by growing some late or perpetual strawberries or growing early strawberries in the polytunnel.

Apples are the most easily stored fruit. Choose ripe fruit with no damage, wrap each individually in newspaper and layer into a large cardboard box that has been lined bottom and sides with hessian sacks. Cover with another sack and then something that will stop the mice climbing in.

Store in a dry but airy shed.

I make several apple pies to freeze and also freeze bags of gooseberries, raspberries and any other spare fruit.

Many of the seed companies have fruit trees etc. Also there are specialist fruit nurseries

Including Ken Muir 01255 830181  


 Growing your own herbs

Pots of fresh herbs are now available in supermarkets but it is so easy and much cheaper and definitely more satisfying to grow your own.
Basil and parsley are grown fresh each year from seed. Most others can be grown from seed but if you only need 1 plant it is probably better to buy a plant of each of those that you want to start with. There are several specialist herb growers including  Jekka’s Herb Farm 01454 418878. If you want something much cheaper then go to a car boot sale or a farmers market.

My first four suggestions are Basil and Parsley, Mint and a Bay Tree, none of which are grown in the herb garden.

Basil.  Grown for its wonderful flavour, to dry to use in meat sauces and fresh in pesto sauces and in salads, quiches etc. A tender annual, the seeds need heat to germinate, so sow in seed compost in a propagator in mid March. Prick out in clumps into pots and keep frost-free. They can then be potted on into larger pots and kept on the kitchen, conservatory or porch windowsills. They can be susceptible to green fly when kept indoors so I prefer to plant out into the polytunnel beds in-between the tomato plants. There are many varieties and colours to try but I have found the ordinary green Sweet Basil (Genovese) to be most useful although Purple Ruffles is very decorative.

Parsley. Mainly grown to use in potato salads, omelettes, and quiches. Sow anytime during the spring, in compost that has been warmed by hot water. Keep in a very warm place in a plastic bag until the seeds germinate. Prick out in clumps into pots. I always then transplant parsley into several different places around the garden, into pots by the back door, and into the polytunnel border. In this way I have some to use right through until the next years young crop is ready. Parsley is very hardy and will even stand a covering of snow.

Spearmint or garden mint. For home-made mint sauce, which is much nicer than shop bought. Mint is very well known for spreading everywhere out of control and books often suggest it is planted into a buried bucket to confine the roots. (Which in my opinion either kills it or it escapes anyway). I prefer to plant it somewhere where it can spread without being a nuisance,

Bay.  Essential for flavouring meat dishes and bread sauce also for bringing into the house at Christmas to scent the rooms. A Bay tree can grow to 26 feet tall and 12 feet across so either keep it trimmed in a pot or plant somewhere out of the way. The leaves are very easy to dry.

My other choices are all grown in a special herb garden area.

Chives A mild perennial member of the onion family. It is very hardy and easy to propagate. Just dig up and replant in groups of 6 – 10 bulbs. Only the green tops are used and they can be snipped into soft cheese or omelettes and salads. Although the flowers are decorative, they are best removed to stop the green stalks going tough. There are also garlic chives which have flat leaves compared to normal chives whose leaves are hollow tubes.

Rosemary. Essential with lamb, just push sprigs into the skin when roasting.  Rosemary tea is also good as an antiseptic mouthwash and gargle (don’t use when pregnant). Rosemary is an evergreen perennial with a height and spread of 3 feet. It is best replaced after 5 or 6 years as the plants can get very straggly. If cutting back, do so only after all frosts have past. Rosemary is hardy if grown in a sheltered spot but can be damaged by prolonged spells of very wet and freezing weather.

Thyme There are many species coming from various parts of the world. Common Thyme and Lemon Thyme are my favourites. Thyme is a low growing evergreen hardy perennial. Propagate by layering. It prefers a warm dry situation in poor, well-drained soil. Cut back after flowering to prevent it getting woody and straggling. Pick fresh all year round or dry it and take the tiny leaves off the stalks to use in stuffing for chicken or tomatoes.

Fennel A hardy perennial growing up to 7 feet tall. It dies back into the ground in winter and although hardy it needs replacing after three or four years. The feathery leaves are good snipped into salads or used with fish. The seeds are also useful for medicinal purposes and 1 teaspoonful can be used to make a tea to aid digestion or used to soak a pad as a compress on the eyelid for sore eyes. It usually germinates well from seed and often seeds itself over a large area.

Sage Again there are many species, with different colours and scents. Common sage is a hardy evergreen perennial growing to 2 feet tall with green leaves and purple sage is similar but with purple leaves. Very useful used in stuffing. It can be dried but soon loses its flavour and turns musty. Sage is easy to grow from softwood cuttings taken in the spring. It should be trimmed back after flowering in the summer, but don’t cut back in the autumn as this could kill it. Sage tea made from the leaves is good for sore throats but must not be used for more than one or two days.

Oregano.This is sometimes also known as wild marjoram. I also like the golden leafed variety. All these are low growing hardy perennials with purple flowers. Propagate by cuttings, as it is difficult from seed. They need a sunny site in well-drained soil. Pick to use fresh in salads and meat dishes. Also very useful dried.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday

Welcome to some new followers on Bloglovin and our eldest who has clicked the follower button, Hi H!
Yesterday C took his nasty cold over to the other side of Suffolk to help our son and his partner move into their new home, I hope he hasn't passed it on to them.
Before he went he managed to get the tomatoes and peppers out into the poly tunnels- saving my back,  which is still being a nuisance. I made some hot cross-less buns, a fruit cake and a few other bits and bobs.
Today C went to work for one of his customers that he should have done on Wednesday and I potted up some courgette and pumpkin plants and sowed a few more seeds.
We've had mainly fine weather here today though with a chilly wind and now have our full compliment of weekend visitors on the campsite.

Not a lot of news today - hope everyone out there in Blogland has a good Easter break.
Back Tomorrow

Thursday, 17 April 2014

A playdough recipe

I promised to look up my playdough recipe for Kev at An English Homestead who is about to become a stay at home dad.
This recipe works well every time is just right for small hands to play with and even my after school child minded kids- aged 8 and 10 still had a good play given half a chance.


2 Cups Flour
1 Cup Salt
2 Tablespoons Cooking Oil
2 Teaspoons Cream of Tartar
2 Cups Water
 A Few Drops of Food Colouring

Mix everything together in a big saucepan, then cook over a low - medium heat - STIR ALL THE TIME.
Remove from the heat when mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, it takes a while.
Knead well when its cool enough to handle and store in an airtight container.
It keeps well.

Find some cutters - often in charity shops, some plastic plates, a small rolling pin  and you will have happy small children.

Thanks for the Happy Birthday wishes yesterday. Also Thank you to 'someone'  ( I think I know who you are) who has sent me a envelope full of card making bits. That's so kind and I will have great fun playing with them.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

April 16th

More poly-tunnel pictures.

Despite suddenly going down with a grotty cold yesterday afternoon ( the first one either of us has had for several years) Him Outside was determined to get the door and window finished on the poly tunnel. So Ta Da!

Covered in mesh on the outside of the frame, inner plastic rolled up for warm days
Here it is with the plastic, which is fixed to a batten at the bottom to weigh it down, rolled down for cold nights. I should have waited for C to trim off the excess plastic before taking the picture!

Nice wide door
 Now all we have to do is get it planted up with tomatoes and peppers.

I had a good collection of cards for my 59th. Lots of books and an Amazon voucher ( for more books!) from the children. I decided that framing the painting was my birthday pressie from C although he also got me a cross stitch mag. We are not big on birthday celebrations here so it was just a normal work day.
 For Christmas as a bit of a joke I  made my brother-in-law a birthday book and noted in it all his nieces, nephews and other family birthdays  and included a whole bundle of cards. He is a single bloke in his fifties and has always been hopeless at birthday cards. It didn't work! Still no card!
Thankfully I have some lovely penfriends so lots of pretty cards and penfriend letters.
 One other item of news, Mabel the missing cat is still around. C spotted her disappearing into our neighbours bit of woodland. He called her and she looked but was soon off at a fast trot. Maybe she was never an inside cat at all. There are plenty of mice in our hay shed and probably more in the stables at our neighbours and far too many small rabbits, so I'm sure she is OK for now. We will put some food out for her  in the hay shed later in the year when the weather turns colder and see what happens.
That's me done for today.
Back tomorrow

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

P Day

P Day = Putting Plastic on Poly-tunnel.

The plastic and frame of our middle tunnel were damaged in the gales on December 24th.
The plastic was taken off straight away so the frame wouldn't get more damaged.
 Then the trench all around the bottom where the old plastic was held down, was dug out. C repaired the frame and new plastic was ordered from a poly-tunnel supply company and arrived safely. We put the hot spot tape on the metal frame yesterday. This will be the second time this plastic has been replaced on a secondhand frame first erected in 1995.
 We were just waiting for the right day - a bit of sun, no wind and both of us at home for several hours.
When you get proper poly-tunnel plastic it is folded and rolled to make it easier to find the middle and to unfold both sides. Here it's over the frame and roughly held down with clods of the dug out soil.
Then starting at one corner put more soil in the trench and stamp it down. After taking this photo I then went round to the back to pull it tight as he back filled all the trench down one side.
One side done.We then left it for a while to get warm in the heat of the sun. The heat helps the plastic expand so we can pull it tighter.

The other side with spare plastic being cut off. We had to buy slightly wider than we needed. Which is better than not having enough!
After side two trench was filled and stamped in we pulled the back tight and held that down in the trench in the same way. Later the oblong will be a window covered in mesh, with plastic inside that can be rolled up and down.

C at the front with both sides and back finished. The door frame is there and he will make a door to fit which will be covered in plastic and hinged on one side.
Considering the frame was secondhand and not particularly even to start with, we've done quite well to get it nice and tight. Ideally it should have been done in warmer temperatures but we needed it finished to get the tomatoes in ASAP.

C said that if we had the proper frame with the proper fixings what we would do after putting the plastic on would be to adjust the hoops up from the inside to get everything tighter. 

After shoveling in dirt  and bending at a funny angle for several minutes while pulling the plastic tight my back seized up! Time to sit down for lunch.

Thanks for chicken and egg comments yesterday to Out My Window, Pam, Paid in Chickens, Kev, Stephanie, Gill, Cro, and Sue also Dawn who has a blog called Doing it for ourselves. I was fascinated by Dawns blog as they are REALLY self sufficient. I thought we were pretty good but what we do pales into insignificance compared to all the interesting things on Dawns Blog. I hope she will continue to write regularly after her house move too.

Back Tomorrow

Monday, 14 April 2014


This morning turned into one of those times when I want to move away to somewhere quiet and peaceful again.
 As usual for a Monday I was baking bread - 2 loaves and some rolls. This always makes a morning when it's difficult to get anything done outside and I wanted to weed the asparagus bed, but every time I tried to get out either the phone rang or someone came to the front door wanting change for egg buying.

Talking about eggs, we had some good luck with getting new chickens. We buy our hens at point-of-lay, that's about  18 to 20 weeks old, from a farmer who has them available four times a year in March, April, July and October. Our plan was to have 60 in March but it clashed with the time C was away at our daughters and the grass in the chicken run hadn't really got going so we decided to wait until his April batch. Then last week we had an email from him to say that he still had some of the March batch left, they were already laying, he needed to get them shifted and did we want them for £6 each? So that's how we come to have 60 chickens without having to feed them for a month and wait for them to start laying. C picked them up Saturday, they laid 32 eggs yesterday and they produced around 40 teeny eggs today.
Clipping the long feathers on one wing stops them being able to fly over a fence. This doesn't cause any harm to the hen.
  My special blackboard sign has gone out the front " LOOK - Small Eggs Going Cheap!"
Our oldest group of chickens, whose eggs are often thin shelled, wrinkled and not good quality will be sold on to someone we know. We will move their shed, give it a good pressure washing  and the new hens will go out onto the field as soon they've eaten their way through the grass  in the chicken run in the garden.

We are hoping for sunshine and less wind tomorrow so we can get the plastic on the poly tunnel.

Thanks to everyone for comments yesterday.
Back tomorrow