Trees and chainsaws – part 2

After the good work on the first fallen tree discussed in the previous post, it was time to get working on the second tree. All through the Christmas period it was more a case of “out of sight, out of mind” so the work could be ignored – plus it was not the sort of weather for chainsaw work outdoors and we had a house full anyway!

Today was such a nice day though that there were no more excuses for not getting outside!

The experience gained when tackling the first tree definitely paid off with this one and it seemed that in no time at all the branches were cleared. The main cuts were easily completed to get the trunk to manageable pieces.

Cutting the trunk down to size
Cutting the trunk down to size

After the previous photo was taken, I moved on to tackle the remaining length of tree trunk which was hanging over the dry stone wall. This was tackled carefully as the trunk was resting on both the wall, an old metal gate and just one side branch.

Some sizing up of the situation was followed by a strategic cut in what I thought was a suitably place… however the laws of physics cannot be ignored in the same way that I had ignored the weight of the root ball.

Tree back upright again
Tree back upright again

It’s not a major problem and there was no risk of injury but it was a little surprising when it happened and another example of the caution needed when working on fallen trees with a chainsaw.

That seems a suitable point to clear up the field especially I could see the clouds looming as the weather closed in. All in all a job well done and luckily the rickety trailer we inherited from the previous owners was up to the job of moving this back to the barn.

A decent haul of firewood
A decent haul of firewood

Trees and chainsaws – part 1

A couple of trees came down in the stormy weather at the start of December and just before Christmas I eventually got around to making a start on them. This post is a belated look back at that work now that life is returning to something like normal.

I’m no tree expert but as far as I can tell one is a larch although the other tree is a bit of a mystery to me for the moment – the lack of leaves gives me little to go on. Some proper research will be needed eventually but for now it’s the hard work that needs to be done.

Luckily these two trees only fell across a ramshackle compost heap in the corner of a field and a dry stone wall. The chicken houses are fairly close but well clear of any possible damage from this or future falling trees.

We’ll also need to do some minor repairs to the wall once the trees have been cleared but more importantly I need access to the compost heap when cleaning out the chicken houses!

Side branches mostly cleared
Side branches mostly cleared


After much effort and careful use of the shiny new chainsaw, the first tree was cleared back to the dry stone wall. A very gratifying amount of progress in a brief spell of dry weather but in the end rain stopped play.

Cleared up to the wall
Cleared up to the wall

At first glance, it looks like some good progress was being made but on closer inspection it’s clear that much more of the tree is still there on the other side of the wall!

Not finished yet
Not finished yet

First job is to clear the field and compost area while getting the wood into usable sized logs stored somewhere dry. Eventually a log splitter will be needed but hopefully we can borrow one from someone locally for our first attempt!

Read the second part for more…

It’s all go here…

The latest batch of arrivals to turn up are part of the plan to replace some lawn with more productive plants and thus cut down on the time spent cutting  the grass! This time around we have 6 fruit bushes  made up of 2 each of Blackcurrant (Ben Lomond), Blueberry (Duke) and Redcurrant (Junifer).

Although the planting site for these bushes is already decided, I’ve not yet made my mind up about the precise arrangement . For example, should I keep each pair of plants together or is it better to take a more random, pick ‘n’ mix approach?

I suspect the choice doesn’t matter too much at this stage and I’m more concerned that they get well established through their first year. I expect to be propagating from the more successful of these in future years so I hope the planting goes well this weekend.

While I’m on the subject, is there a collective noun for a group of fruit bushes? I’ve already established that our 5 fruit trees can be called an orchard but is there a similar term that applies to fruit bushes?

What makes an orchard?

I had ordered 5 fruit trees some time ago but it wasn’t until I came to plant them last weekend that I found myself pondering whether my efforts would qualify as an “orchard” or even if there was a formal definition which specified a number of trees.

In my mind, the term implies a fairly large number of trees and conjures up images of west country cider orchards which gnarled old trees laden with fruit. The trees I bought are only 1-year-old and arrived bare root so they’re not much to look at right now.

As a result of all this I was perhaps understandably hesitant to use the term “orchard” when referring to our limited number of trees. After all there are only 3 apple trees (James Grieve, Meridian and Queen Cox), 1 pear (Concorde) and 1 plum (Victoria).

Luckily a quick check on Wikipedia seems to show that I’m right…

An orchard is an intentional planting of trees or shrubs that is maintained for food production.


Based on that definition, I can confirm that the picture below shows our newly planted orchard and I’m looking forward to the first harvest in a couple of years!

Trust me, it's an orchard!
Trust me, it’s an orchard!

6 month assessment

Slightly surprisingly we’ve been in our “new” house for 6 months now so it seemed a good time to take stock and assess the situation. It’s also a good point to take the time to appreciate everything we have and how lucky we are to have it.

Over this period there have been a good number of successes, a few minor failures and plenty of schemes or plans for the future which may or may not ever come to fruition. Here is a quick run through for the record…


The 3 original "pet" hens
The 3 original “pet” hens

We made a seemingly minor decision during the first month or two to occasionally leave broody hens to hatch batches of eggs. However after the first three sets of chicks arrived  we quickly realised that we had reached full capacity on the under-productive white chickens that we inherited on our arrival here.

The first batch of chicks that hatched yielded just 2 – one male and one female – so the cockerel soon became the volunteer for our first attempt at killing and eating our own chicken.

Through the summer we found that it was just too much like hard work to find out if and where they’re laying eggs despite our efforts with fencing them in and generally improving the facilities provided for them.

Next spring we’ll give the existing flock another few months to prove themselves but if there’s no improvement then some extra point of lay hybrids will be brought in. There is always the possibility of getting rid of the inherited chickens but right now that seems a little drastic. On reflection perhaps a “layers flock” in a separate dedicated area will mean the existing flock can be treated as meat birds.


The Tamworths
The Tamworths

The huge success and enjoyment of our first foray into pig-keeping means that we will definitely be getting 2 or 3 weaners in Spring 2014. There is a temptation at this stage to go further next year by getting a couple of breeding sows but common sense should prevail and we’ll get more experience with weaners first.

The next batch of pigs will definitely be a different breed so we can compare them with the first two Tamworths and get more day-to-day practical experience before settling on a particular breed for the longer term

My preference would be for Oxford Sandy and Black weaners next simply based on their appearance but it’s just as likely that we’ll get whatever is available at the time locally to save headaches with transporting them.


From everything I’ve read, Dexters seem to be a good fit for our requirements if we are considering a house cow but with no prior experience of this I think some practical training will be needed first. There is also a consideration about the amount extra time this will take and how we can best fit that in with all the other plans we have (as well as the day jobs).

At least  any excess dairy products could be used to cut the pig feed bill and ease the financial burden but as usual there are also plans to try cheese and butter making or even yoghurt if we’re feeling daring.


Another appealing idea is to take on a few orphaned lambs from the local farmer and raise them for meat. However it might be better to wait until we’ve dealt with the pigs before deciding on that just in case we get too attached to them!

Our friendly local farmer is always willing to make use of our paddocks and hay meadow for his sheep from time to time so we can fall back on that option. It gives us the chance to watch closely how the professionals do it before making any decisions for our own flock.


The expansion of growing space should mean that more of each can be grown providing I can resist the temptation to just grow a larger number of varieties instead. Some of this extra space is already taken up with the onion sets and garlic but I have plenty more space and loads of ideas for next year!

Raised bed building
Raised bed building

My first batch of rhubarb will need to be moved to a more permanent home after starting life with us in large tubs so they could be transported when we moved house. As luck would have it, the house we eventually bought already had some healthy looking rhubarb but I’m sure we can find plenty of ways to use up any excess.

One of the great successes from the previous 6 months was the dwarf bean which were a freebie promotional packet of seeds but provided a good crop from a relatively small space. They will definitely be making an appearance again next year along with the leeks, carrots and beetroot.

One lesson learned the hard way this year was to properly protect cabbages from butterflies – much as I like to see them, I’d rather eat my own cabbages than feed them to the pigs. Needless to say, there are already plans to try some theories for removable netting covers for the new raised beds.


Our new fruit trees (3 apple, 1 plum and 1 pear) should be arriving any day now but for the first year or so while they get established we will be removing any fruit that forms. I’m happy to make sure of a better future harvest in future years and encourage its energy into growth rather than expect fruit in the first year.

All indications seem to be that they should survive in the North Pennines especially as the chosen spot is fairly well sheltered but still sunny (on a good day). It’s likely that any failures are much more likely to be down to my inexperience  but preparations are well in hand including tree guards and stakes.

Another fruit adventure is some soft fruit bushes which are due for delivery shortly – 2 each of blackcurrant, redcurrant and blueberry. That seemed a good variety of plants to try but, if space permits, we can always get more of those that do well over the next few years.

Other ideas…

We have already signed up for the installation of solar PV panels although for our situation these will be ground mounted in a field rather than on the roof. Although there is still the small matter of planning permission to get we’re reliably told that this has not been a problem on previous installations by the same company.

With such a wide range of ideas and options running around my head, it’s sometimes important to step back and keep focussed on the main issues. However in my “spare time” I can dream up even more schemes with varying levels of realism for such things as a holiday let conversion, biomass heating system, main house refurbishment, tree planting, fencing/walling repairs and so much more.

If only there were more hours in the day and an unlimited amount of money in the bank …


Our first weaners – from start to finish

Around the middle of July, just 7 weeks after moving to our new house, we started our first attempt at rearing pigs. The two Tamworth weaners were collected by car using a borrowed dog cage with surprisingly little difficulty and only a slightly unsavoury smell.

Very relaxed passengers
Very relaxed passengers

On arriving home they were installed in their woodland home and immediately started eating anything that looked remotely tasty. Not many pigs get to live in such beautiful surroundings although I think the wall might be a little high for them to really appreciate the far reaching views!

North Pennines landscape
North Pennines landscape

Before long the 2 pigs had worked their way round most of the boundary clearing everything that was in their path! This was not entirely unexpected though and their home had been carefully chosen as it only had very well established trees, everything else in there was considered expendable.

Clearing the ground
Clearing the ground

Luckily, and through no great skill on our part, the 2 pigs had no health issues so although we had already identified a suitable vet they were never needed! This is one of the best parts of only raising weaners for a few months before any proper winter weather sets in.

Feeding time twice a day was always entertaining and never became a chore. There was something very soothing about the short walk round to the woods and the time spent with the pigs. I’m not sure that I appreciated refilling their water troughs so often but I expect they enjoyed turning them over soon after I’d left!

Over time each one developed their own personality which made it tough t times not to get too attached to them.

Meal time for the pigs!
Meal time for the pigs!

Predictably the time soon came around when they reached about 6/7 months old and needed to head off to the abattoir. Preparations were started well ahead of time for things like ear tagging the pigs so that by the day before their trip we had everything in order.

As this was our first time with pigs as well as using a trailer it seemed wise to do a dry run of loading the pigs into the trailer which went really well.

The pigs love the shiny new trailer!
The pigs love the shiny new trailer!

The woods now have a few months to recover and we have time to consider our next move. However it seems certain to me that we’ll have another batch of weaners next year because these two were so easy to look after and we have such great facilities for pigs in the woods.

What a life!
What a life!

When it came to unloading the two pigs at the abattoir, they were treated very well and I was able to help herd them into their own pen in the holding area. They were remarkably relaxed despite being in a completely new environment and it was interesting to see the (smaller) Gloucester Old Spots that were in the next door pen. Maybe that’s a breed to try next?

The next week was spent wondering how much pork we would get back and what would we do with it all! The answer is clear from the photo below, it was around 120kg in total

Look at all that pork
Look at all that pork

The chest freezer is now pretty full of roasting joints and chops but at least it coped with the load! Also the past weekend included a start on dry curing some bacon but I’m not very confident about the results of that at the moment, time will tell.

The sausage making on the other hand is getting better which each batch that are made. First up was pork and leek flavour then the next day it was Cumberland but all of them were headed for the freezer. Of course some of the sausage meat was cooked up for testing purposes just to be sure they’ll turn out okay.

Home-made Cumberland sausages
Home-made Cumberland sausages

I’m not sure we can sensibly eat pork more that 3 times a week but there are many ways to process or cook it.

This is a good moment for family and friends to rally round and support us by taking some of the huge quantity of meat off our hands. This time there might be some freebies for them as we’re just trying the whole process out – next time around we may not be so generous!