Early signs of growth

The rhubarb that I planted in pots before we moved last year has overwintered safely in a corner of a barn. This probably wasn’t essential but for our first winter in the North Pennines I wasn’t sure what to expect!

Both the Stockbridge Arrow variety and the Champagne variety are looking quite healthy considering the neglect of the last few months. Once I saw that there are already some signs of life I thought I’d try gently forcing them this year.

Forcing is not something I’ve tried before and these were only planted into the pots last spring so I don’t want to push them too hard. On the other hand I want to see how it goes while they are still in pots because I plan to put these plants into an old vegetable bed next year.

Stockbridge Arrow rhubarb
Stockbridge Arrow rhubarb


Forcing rhubarb - Champagne variety
Forcing rhubarb – Champagne variety

Pork into sausages, bacon and ham

After a lengthy delay, I have finally added a pork processing page under the USING section with the information about how I used the pork we got back from our first two weaners in 2013.

Back bacon before curing
Back bacon before curing

This was just a gentle introduction to bacon curing and sausage making although just before Christmas there was also a flurry of curing ham as well but the process for that is actually much the same as for bacon. It might be just plain beginners luck but these turned out well and the results were very well received over the Christmas period!

Another burst of sausage making only yesterday reminded me of a couple of extra points which I have now included but I’m sure there’ll probably be a few more additions or changes as time goes on.

The Processing Pork page has been added mainly as a reference for the methods and recipes used this time around so that I can look back at the information when our next lot of weaners arrive back from the butchers. If this page also helps others as well then that’s a bonus and if there are any glaring errors or omissions then please let me know so I can correct them!


Trying to get ahead of the game or just impatient for spring

There is a growing feeling that we are almost through the short days and long dark nights of winter. The time is almost here to focus on planning for the coming year, drawing up a planting plan and trying to get one step ahead before everything starts growing again.

I’m ready for the late burst of winter (if it comes) and I’m actually hoping for a bit of snow so I don’t feel like the winter tyres I bought have been a complete waste of time.

Raised Beds

The addition of plastic covers over a couple of the raised beds has generally been a good idea and at the very least it kept the chickens off the onions and garlic.

It took me a while to decide how best to fix everything as I had grand hopes of inventing some sort of home-made cover which would be both removable and adjustable. That simply resulted in indecision so nothing was done but eventually I gave up on the fancy plans and decided to simply attach wooden battens down each side.

An important lesson learned however is to give some rigidity to the structure by bracing each of the hoops along the length of the raised bed. Without this the ends of the cover simply fold in when you attempt to get any tension in the plastic. The two smaller raised beds have deliberately been left without covers but even so more timber is needed to complete the fixing work job!

Covered raised veg beds
Covered raised veg beds

The fixings have so far proved very successful and are definitely more visually appealing than a pile of old stones and rocks.  The next task is to finish pegging out the ground cover fabric along the pathways and cover it with some stone chippings or gravel. With something like 30 metres of paths to layout, edge and fill I think there will soon be another sizeable delivery coming from the local builders merchant.

Solar PV

Despite the predictions of delays with planning applications, barely a couple of months after applying the approval came through. As expected there were no major concerns from anyone so now the work can go ahead as soon as possible – just in time for the weather to improve in spring. I hope these solar panels don’t put a jinx on summer this year!

The idea of ground mounted solar panels (instead of roof mounted) made the most sense for our situation especially given that the main house roof is east/west-facing. The only suitably south-facing area of roof is on a barn but that was considered to be a little too shaded by trees growing close by. Those trees are definitely staying as they include a few healthy looking ash trees which I’d hate to lose.

I believe that the next major hurdle to tackle will be completing the FIT (Feed In Tariff) forms for our electricity supplier but I’m not absolutely certain about that. Up to this point the panel installation company have been very helpful so I’m sure they’ll be able to guide us through the rest of it.


Despite having the pleasure of watching hens hatch and raise her chicks last summer, we are still dealing with the fairly predictable results – too many cockerels.

It was hardly surprising that just over 50% of the chicks that hatched turned out to be male. Unfortunately with their growing maturity this has led to incidents of “unacceptable behaviour” with boys either fighting each other or pestering the hens.

A fine looking specimen
A fine looking specimen

Another helpful lesson that has been learned is that raising chickens for meat is fairly straightforward but the actually killing doesn’t get any easier no matter how many times you do it. I can still recall the one that had been strung up by his feet after being killed only for me to turn around a minute later to see him walking away down the barn!

Perhaps if someone else dealt with the dispatching, plucking and gutting then it might be worth considered in the future. Of course whoever did this would need to be paid and that would most likely cancel out any financial gain!

Longer Days

Each morning is just a little lighter than the last, the snowdrops are already up and the daffodils are starting to push through the remaining fallen leaves and other detritus that we left. This was not a scientific decision to warm the ground for spring, it was more a case that we never got around to clearing it all during autumn/winter!


The temptation is still to look too far ahead in the impatience for spring to arrive. Instead I turn the statement around and try to remember that there’s nothing I can do it stop spring arriving in the end and it will get here soon enough.

Since we moved here less than a year ago, each month brings new things to see, learn or do. We’ll never remember everything but hopefully that’s where this blog will go some way to assisting in future years.

This will be our first spring here so it is eagerly anticipated to see what it brings with lambing, more weaners and getting to grips with the new raised beds. Exciting times ahead!

A lazy Sunday?

Any prospect of the lazy Sunday afternoon that I thought might have been possible was quickly dispelled by the unexpected arrival of the log man. Apparently he was catching up on deliveries after suffering with a bad cold recently but this kind of service seemed above and beyond the call of duty!

Firewood delivery
Firewood delivery

A very welcome sight of course as our supply of logs was pretty much all gone and recently we have been burning the “left overs” that had gathered in odd corners of the wood shed. I’m not sure if there is a term which can be used for firewood found like this but “driftwood” doesn’t seem quite right.

Unfortunately for me, everyone else had somewhere else to be on Sunday afternoon so it meant that I had the pleasure of shifting this little lot into the wood shed. In the end it turned out to be a pleasant enough task especially once it was completed despite the dull ache from all the bending and lifting.

There is something very satisfying about a neatly stacked wood pile even though I’m not sure whether I’m doing it the right way – hopefully there isn’t a “right” way which would obviously mean that I can’t be doing it “wrong”!

Smart wood pile
Smart wood pile

One thing was clearly highlighted though while doing this, a new wheelbarrow is definitely near the top of the shopping list. The existing one has another flat tyre and I can’t bear to go through the aggravation of mending punctures and replacing the wheel again! At least I got two years use after the previous repair efforts and I can always keep this one for emergencies only.