Thursday, 28 July 2016

Meat Box Day

I could quite easily be a vegetarian - I am not 100% sure about the morality of eating meat and even less sure that the planet can cope with a population of meat eaters.

While I figure this out,  I am a supporter of  Compassion in World Farming and  I make sure the meat I eat is as humanely raised as possible - so I get a meat box delivered every month from Riverford Organic.

I have been involved in some controversial blog debates about meat and frugality. Some feel that organic meat is a luxury that not all can afford, and that some don't have the choice but to buy factory farmed meat.

Personally, I think it is better to eat less of the good stuff - even if that is once a week - than it is to eat nasty antibiotic-riddled factory meat every day and I would happily forego meat most days to do this. We don't have money to burn now we have our huge mortgage to pay, so I am doing an experiment this month to see whether we can stay within budget and still eat good quality food.

Our meat box cost £65. I have frozen it in portions, as most packets were too big for the two of us. We now have 2 meals worth of chicken breasts; 3 of beef steaks; 3  of pork steaks; 500g beef mince; 1 lamb leg roasting joint (should be able to make 2 meals from it) and one small chicken (which should make 2 meals). So, that is 16 meals in total, making each approximately £4 - which isn't far off what we would pay in a supermarket for a meals worth of meat.

I will report back at the end of August to see how this goes.

It's been a muggy few days here. The farmer next door has been out all through the night, baling the hay in the field behind our plot with floodlights. When the sun has broken though, it has been baking hot. The smells in the air have gone from the tangy hit of fresh growth to the biscuit haze of summer proper. Although it has drizzled a little, there are huge cracks in the clay appearing if you look closely between the golden stubble.

I imagine if my plot were up and running, I would be out every night with the hose - I can't wait for those days.

On which note, I have been out measuring and staking the new beds this week, in the evenings after work. Measuring is not my strong point, but it turns out our plot is definitely NOT square. I can't wait to cut the first turf ready for a very exciting delivery due at the weekend...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Wisdoom Day

I had a wisdom tooth out today, with my first filling thrown in as well.

It feels criminal to waste a beautiful day off work sitting on the sofa, catching up on crappy soaps, but that is exactly what I did, retiring to bed for a little snooze now and again.

I can't eat solids or anything hot for 24 hours - which rules out coffee - tragedy!

All things considered though it went well, and I should be back to work tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I have the best little nurse loyally by my side, making sure I am alright.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Not Quite Five Frugal Things and Sunday Guilt

I wanted to write a post as a contribution to the weekly '5 Frugal Things' thread on Katy's excellent  Non Consumer Advocate blog, but I am ashamed to say, I can't quite muster 5 frugal things I did this week. In fact, on reflection, it has been a very expensive week.

Costs are spiralling a little out of control with our wedding, and I have bought horrifically expensive but very pretty and sturdy fencing materials. We have also eaten out, and I had my hair done. Plus, I am have started the Cambridge Weight Plan (more in another post) in a bid to squeeze into my wedding dress at the final fitting, in 19 days time - which is expensive and making me grumpy!

So, although I only have the three paltry offerings for Katy's cause this week, I am grateful for her post as it has brought my attention to my poor efforts at frugality - credit cards balances are growing, and I need to stem the flow as much as possible. We also need to keep to the wedding budget more rigidly.

So, here were the three frugal things I did this week, pathetic though they are!:

I froze a glut of ripe avocados. Apparently, this is a 'thing' and some supermarkets are even selling peeled, frozen half avocados. I am reliably informed from a friend that this works, although the texture is not as nice as a fresh one, when defrosted. However, you can still use them to smash with scrambled egg, spread on toast or as guacamole. Got to be worth a try and better than wasting them.

I also froze a bunch of leftover parsley that was going a bit off. I chopped it roughly and froze it in a Tupperware box in the freezer. It was absolutely fine in an omelette later in the week.

I rescued a soft, bendy cauliflower, roasting the florets tossed in harissa paste (though I suppose curry powder and oil would do just as well) in the oven, with the intention of taking them to work with some hummus, for lunch. But it was so good, we scoffed the lot still warm, before I could even take a picture! Still, better than wasting them.

On a frugal food note, we are quite lucky here. because takeaways don't deliver this far out. So where in the old house we would definitely have ordered a pizza after a night at the pub on Tuesday, this week we came home and made a scrappy tea of sausages, homemade chips and baked beans, saving about £20. You could say we were saved from ourselves!

This weekend, I had been looking forward to measuring and staking out the soft fruit beds ready to strip the turf.  But, the drawback of being a wannabe part-time smallholder and a full-time office worker, is that I am so, so tired. I ended up spending yesterday with friends, family and at the hairdressers. Today, the weather has turned and is a bit grey and windy and we are both dog tired. I just can't muster the enthusiasm, even though I want my patch up and running so badly.  I don't trust myself to measure accurately in this state!

But, I am thinking that it is better to wait and do garden jobs with whole hearted enthusiasm, than forcing it. In this modern world, we are so unkind to ourselves and heap on so much guilt.

So I have taken instead to my favourite autumn/winter pastime - quilting in front of the iPlayer, catching up on Gardeners World. Happy Sunday all.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Home Made Compost Bins

I am in a bit of a building frenzy at the moment.

John Seymour in his excellent 'The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency' says that :

'nothing should be wasted on the self-sufficient holding. The dustman should never have to call'.

While zero waste is probably never going to realistically happen for us, I hope that as we start to produce our own vegetables, the amount of waste packaging we produce will fall (why do supermarkets pre-pack EVERYTHING fresh!). We recycle all glass, cardboard, plastic bottles and paper. Composting is a no-brainer for kitchen and garden waste.

We have a couple of old compost heaps built by the previous owner  but they only contain grass clippings and the remains of a hornbeam hedge. Neither is likely to rot to anything useful without being mixed with some more 'fleshy' material and something to activate the decomposition process. And - they are full. So I plan to gradually mix the contents of the existing heap into two new heaps over the course of the next year.

A trip to our local industrial estate this evening  yielded eight pallets. Don't be afraid to ask, the two places I tried were only too happy to help.

I arranged them into two conjoined squares and screwed the back and sides with some long wood screws (the blocks within the pallets are perfect for this).

The fronts need to come off for easy turning and to retrieve the finished compost, so I attached these with cable ties, which I can snip off for easy access when the time comes.

I don't think they look too bad and they only cost the price of the screws and cable ties, which I had already.

Very satisfying to add the first waste scraps. I did a 'poo pick' of the chicken run and came back with half a bucket. Not something I would want to have to do all the time, but it really is great stuff to get the decomposition process going.

I later added a thin layer of grass clippings. For now any new clippings we produce will have to go in the council bin, until we have incorporated the backlog. It is such a large space that otherwise we would never get the balance of nitrogen (grass) to carbon (paper, straw, woody plant waste) right which a compost bin needs to rot successfully.

It has been absolutely beautiful here in the bright sunshine, which has continued until nine o'clock each evening, although it does make doing anything remotely active a bit of a slog.

Apparently a storm is on the way today to cool us all off a bit.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

I Built a Potting Bench

I have dreamed of a potting shed all my adult life. Of course, a potting bench is fairly fundamental to this idea. I spent the afternoon clearing all of the junk from the shed (when we moved, it was just dumped in any old way) and hanging all of the tools up to make floor space for the enormous mower. This then made enough space for a bench, and seeing as I found a piece of old wooden worktop in there...I built one!
Apologies to my Design Technology teacher at school - it is a bit of a bodge, but it will do the job nicely. It was cheap too, as I only had to buy the batons and screws, which came to about £15 all together.
I started by building a frame, screwing a baton to the wall to add some stability and bear some weight.

I squared it up by adding some cross pieces, then added the top.

It isn't beautiful, but I am thrilled. This is where I will stand in the spring with Radio 4 and a cup of tea, potting things on and generally retreating from the world, enjoying the peace and quiet.

I can hardly wait.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Chooks are Here!

I woke up like a child on Christmas morning on Saturday, the day I had arranged with  Charlottes Poultry to pick up the chooks.
They are bred on site - I had a nose around the breeding shed, where the chicks live under a lamp while they grow.

Then it is on to the big girls pen, where the Point of Lay (30 week old) hens live.

I chose five. I would love to say it was for a reason less fickle than because they looked pretty all together, but it wasn't. Although I did choose two hybrids who I am told will lay blue eggs.

We have gone for a cheap-ish henhouse from ebay, with an automatic door opener from Titan, that opens at 6.00am and closes when the light levels fall sufficiently (about 10pm at the moment). One day we may upgrade the house if we increase the size of our flock - but to be honest it is easy to clean and simple to use, so will do us fine for now.

We have gone for an electric fence of 50 square meters - a little too large and may have to be shortened one day, but while we have the space (until we build the polytunnel and dig over the veg patches) they may as well enjoy it.

So far so good.

There seems to be plenty to keep them busy in the long grass.

I did supervise bedtime with a cup of tea, but they cleverly tucked themselves in without any instruction.

No sign of any eggs yet, but there is plenty of poop - my compost heap is going to benefit.
I hope you had a great weekend.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Five on Friday

Pleased to be joining in with Amy at Love Made My Home for 5 on Friday.

Here are 5 things that have made me happy this week:

1. Summer Rain

During Tuesday's evening run, I stumbled across a field of golden oats. The sky had suddenly darkened and the air felt dramatic. The oats still glowed from the sun behind me, but at the same time it started to rain lightly. The raindrops made the oats rustle as they fell. It was warm and peaceful and a totally blissful moment, which I savoured for a good ten minutes - just gorgeous.

2. Sourdough Starter

Since we seem to be buying bread again at weekends, I have decided to start off another sourdough starter so that we can make our own. This was just 500g plain flour and water, left open to the air for a few days and then 1/3 removed and replaced with fresh flour and water to 'feed' it every other day this week. Now, it has settled to smell vaguely beery and I will be making my first loaf this weekend.

I was particularly pleased that a friend gave me a smoothie shaker cup. I must be honest, I am yet to make a protein shake in it, but the ventilation hole and metal shaker ball within it is perfect for stirring the starter every day without the mess - something that put me off in the past.

3. Hanging Up Washing

For the first time in our new house - it was a total joy to hang up washing on the nice long line.

Unlike our last house, where we had a clothes horse in the dingy shaded courtyard,  this line is in the sun (during the day - this shot was taken early before work) and blows in the breeze. Look at the blue of that sky! I don't find hanging washing out a chore at all.

4. Pectin

The apple trees have dropped some apples early. I have it on good authority that these tiny apples are very high in pectin, which is key to setting jelly and jam. Mine are always a bit on the runny side, so I have popped these in the freezer for the autumn, when I have a feeling apple and rosemary jelly will be a feature! Good job too, as I have just used up the last of the 2014 lot.

 5. The Henhouse!

We are very excited to have our henhouse, with automatic door opener, up and running. All that remains now is for the fence to arrive and to find ourselves some inhabitants!

I hope you had a great week.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Yarn Along Wednesday

I am joining the lovely Ginny for Yarn Along this Wednesday, sharing something I am knitting and something I am reading.

Knitting: a classic baby blanket for a new family arrival this autumn. Two squares down, 62 to go! It is a lovely pattern which results in what looks like leaves framed by ridged diamonds. In just purl and knit, it is mercifully simple.

Reading: This lovely book about one woman's experience of moving to a northern Swedish island with her young family, raising them and becoming self-sufficient. This despite the extremes of climate and extreme isolation. Fascinating and written in beautiful descriptive prose.

I hope you are enjoying your Wednesday.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Back Then

I am not new to smallholding - or blogging. I once wrote a blog with the same name, chronicling my experiences, what feels like a lifetime ago. I also blogged the bit in between.
Although I am still a wannabe Part-Time Smallholder, everything else has changed. I am so glad I kept a record - although it felt like I was just capturing  the mundanities of every day life back then, it is lovely to look back on.

I think that once you have the virus for growing your own and living by the seasons, you never shake it off.

You might think you have a yearning for high heels, the power of corporate life and the trappings of a good income. To be able to fling anything into your supermarket trolley without much regard for the price, spend two weeks in Mauritius or get a cleaner on the basis that an extra two hours of your time not spent cleaning, in your overstressed world, is worth the money (all very nice things, admittedly).

But you will clap a wistful eye on someone else's beautiful vegetable patch and feel a pull a bit like a young child tugging at your sleeve for attention. You will notice the that the quality of the light has changed as you scurry to your car in the morning, or the first nip in the air, and feel like you are missing a party. You will wince at the cost of courgettes or eggs in the supermarket - not because you can't afford them, but because you remember a time when you literally couldn't give them away fast enough!

Now please don't think I am suddenly hugely affluent - I am not, far from it. But the result of  focussing on work and sorting life out in general, was that for the first time, I am almost financially secure. I have met a wonderful new man, and we are getting married. I feel like I can more safely plan for the future (to the degree that any of us can).

When I was writing the blog originally, life was incredibly rich in so many ways, but I was really struggling financially - the sort of  'it's the 20th and we only have £20 to live on' kind of struggling, with final notices coming through the door almost every other day and constant stress about how we would cope. Renting was expensive and debts meant any spare income went on repayments. It also meant I had to do everything the hard way, because innovations or equipment that was expensive, was out of the question. That said, I look back on that period with so many happy memories.

I have learned some precious lessons about money. Now I am very lucky that I am in a better financial position. We own our house (well - the mortgage company does) and although not rich, we are comfortable enough. For the brief months where I have been able to go and spend extra money on 'things' like clothes, meals out or holidays, I can't honestly say I have been extra happy. It seems that once you have reached a threshold - a financial security threshold I suppose - your happiness does not increase in parallel with the extra income beyond what you need to feel safe. If money is no object, you lose the value of things.

What my life needs to be complete now, is to grow, nurture and fall back into rhythm with the seasons.

As I am still chained to the desk - for now at least - I have kept the name 'The Part Time Smallholder' but started afresh with this blog. I can't wait to see where it leads!

Monday, 11 July 2016


Dreaming about my veggie patch has led me to crave seasonal food lately and I have been shopping in the farm shop a lot.

One day (next year, all going to plan) I will have two juicy gooseberry bushes in my patch, and I will be chowing down on gooseberry compote and thick, silky natural yoghurt (none of that low fat stuff for me!) for breakfast all through July.

Until then, admittedly I am limited to buying my gooseberries. They are grown in the neighbouring village and they are all fat, hairy and gorgeous.

As luck would have it there were also some pretty amazing looking pork chops at the farm shop, and gooseberry and pork are good companions. So I turned to Nigel Slater for inspiration and made this Pork, Gooseberry Mint and Juniper relish recipe.

Striking in the pan and was a little bit different - really nice to have a tangy hit from the gooseberries with the smooth fatty taste of the pork - highly recommend.

We ate it with herby potatoes (also grown down the road) and runner beans.

There then followed an evening of swearing and grunting as we put together the henhouse in the living room, away from the torrential but warm summer rain outside.

All being well it will be occupied by the weekend!

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Long Awaited Pleasure

If you are a gardener who has been without a 'proper' garden for any length of time, you will appreciate my absolute joy at being able to compost kitchen waste again!
An even greater pleasure now that my beautiful shiny compost caddy has arrived. Smiley face!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

I can Breathe Again

It's been a blissful few days re-acquainting myself with the Wiltshire countryside.

Silly really, as we are only a little bit further into the countryside here, but instead of being on a main road, we are nestled deep into the quiet country lanes. Already, thanks to some space to sit in the garden, we are spending more time outdoors, and I can feel myself breathe again.

As I type this and make garden plans on our outside table at dusk, there is a peachy glow in the sky which is turning the cereal crop in the field we back on to, a blush colour.

Two pigeons are fluttering loudly, competing for a comfortable night-time branch to brood on in the huge willow tree that overhangs our plot. There is the odd moo from far away and if I concentrate, I 'zone in' to the low shwoosh of the M4 in the distance. Not particularly idyllic admittedly, but it is one of those sounds that is constant and gentle and so almost comforting. In any event, it is a case of accepting the things you can't change and 'zoning out'.

Even the smells of outside are better than I remember - the smell of creosote on treated wood and the tangy pear-drop smell of cut meadow grass drying out. I went for a run last night, home from work via the back lanes.  I was suddenly smacked with the sweet smell of furniture polish - odd - then it occurred to me that what was tickling my nostrils was in fact the flowers on the grassy verges. What furniture polish tries to emulate! And how amazing to be running again. I loved it and yet again, wondered why I left it so long.

Earlier I took the little dog across the beautiful meadows in the village which are maintained by the National trust - so many things to look at. Wiltshire at midsummer is a magical place to be.

I am feeling a bit woozy from it all.

Monday, 4 July 2016

And So It Begins!

After two long years renting and prior to that, living in a tiny mid terrace, we have land! And this time, blissfully I finally feel that I am home, and we can make it our own.
Allotments are wonderful, and I am lucky to have had very understanding landlords happy for me to do what I like with my various rented patches. But I have dreamed of my very own smallholding for years -  I am so grateful and happy that this moment has come. Now we can plant asparagus without the risk that before it is mature enough to eat, we have to move. Or fruit bushes/trees, safe in the knowledge that we will see them fruit*.
*assuming we keep up the ginormous mortgage, that is!
So, let me show you around!
Here is the view from the upstairs window. We back on to open fields, which are beautiful and so peaceful.

The garden is 'split' into a domestic garden separated from a larger patch behind by a little brook. The latter has agricultural ties. This suits us fine, since we have absolutely agricultural intentions!

Here is the 'garden' area, with two mature apple trees, from the bridge over the brook.

So much to do, it is a little overwhelming, but I am determined to plan carefully and do things properly so that we have a well-designed and thought out space. First off, fencing for privacy and to stop the little dog from escaping across the road to play with the neighbouring Jack Russell.
So for now, we are celebrating, measuring and making delicious plans!