General summer update

After some poor early results the new raised beds are looking a little more respectable these days. There has been a surprisingly low success rate with some of the seeds I’ve planted which has meant some extra later planting to fill in the gaps.

This is a little annoying but I enjoy sowing seeds so it’s been good to get some seeds in while there is still time left this year.

Varied results with leeks and beetroot
Varied results with leeks and beetroot

There were some small instances of problems with chickens, birds and other wildlife helping themselves but that wasn’t the biggest issue for me.

I still haven’t decided whether the seed company I used this year are to blame for dodgy seeds or if the problem is with the “dumpy” bags of compost I had delivered to fill these new raised beds.

My suspicions are that the bulk compost prices are a false economy and this is supported by the fact that a fair percentage of the seeds do germinate.

Courgettes and peas

After a promisingly organised start to the year I’ve realised that lolly sticks are just not up to the job of labelling where seeds have been sown. The writing gets dirty or fades too quickly so for a while I was left with small squash and courgette plants but no way for a beginner like me to tell them apart.

Luckily as the plants get bigger the difference becomes more obvious but I’ve learnt that lesson now. I recently bought some proper black plant labels which come with a white pen – just like the professionals! I’ve been very impressed with the prompt delivery from Harrod Horticulture but I’m not sure they are always the cheapest for everything.

First courgettes
First courgettes

It seems that peas do well here but the results would have been even more impressive if I had spaced the plants out a little more and provided some better support while they were growing. This variety has purple pods which I really like as it helps with finding and picking them when the time is right.

Purple podded peas
Purple podded peas

The pod may be purple but don’t worry inside the peas are green just like normal…

A pod full of peas
A pod full of peas


And last but not least, the sweetcorn is looking quite good at the moment. If I’m honest though this is the only plant which is this advanced!

Hedgehog rescue

There are 3 raised beds in a corner of the garden which were already in place when we moved to the house. This year I’ve just put a few squash or courgette plants in there and left them to their own devices other than the occasion weeding or watering.

This morning I happened to check that area and found what I initially took to be a dead hedgehog caught in the protective netting which was intended to keep the sneaky chickens off the beds.

Hedgehog caught in netting
Hedgehog caught in netting

Luckily on closer examination I found that the hedgehog was still alive so I set about untangling the netting which quickly proved to be almost impossible. Eventually some careful snipping with scissors was needed but in the end the hedgehog was free to wander off again.

Heading off to a cool, dark place
Heading off to a cool, dark place

There’s no such thing as a dull moment in this place…

Cutting the hay meadows

It’s that time of year again when the friendly neighbouring farmer comes along to cut the hay meadows. Unlike last year when everything happened while I was out for the day, this year he arrived while I was pottering around the place so I was able to take some pictures.

In our area it seems that hay making has been going on for some time so I had thought ours would be some of the last to get cut. This is not a bad thing with these wildflower hay meadows as it’s good to let the plants set seed before cutting.

I have also noticed that there are still a number of fields dotted around locally which have not been cut yet so we can hold our heads up high. It may not be a competition but there is a part of me that’s glad we’re not the last to get cut!

view from ground level before cutting
view from ground level before cutting
View from higher up during cutting
View from higher up during cutting
All finished!
All finished!


Now would seem a good time for me to make some plans for the future maintenance or even improvements to these fields. In the future we may need to consider taking on this work ourselves so it would be very helpful to know a little more on the subject.

Luckily the North Pennines AONB Meadow Management workshop listed on the North Pennines Smallholders website is coming up soon so that’s probably a good place to start!

The clock is ticking for the pigs

I realise that there haven’t been as many blog posts about the 3 weaners this year when compared to the 2 Tamworths we raised last year.

This is no reflection on the current trio who I have to say are equally as entertaining as the original two. However it’s more a reflection on the lack of time in each day for everything that could be done.

It seems a shame to wake them!
It seems a shame to wake them!

Now seems a suitable time to add a brief update on their progress and also outline the plan for the next phase.

The 22 week weigh-in

According to my estimate the pigs have reached 22 weeks now and should be ready to take off to slaughter around the second week of August.

I’ve not forgotten the handy calculation for pig weight from metric measurements that I used before but I’ve included it below for my own reference::

Heart Girth ² x Length x 69.3 = weight (in Kgs)

I’ve used the best figures I could come up (they don’t stand still for long!) and as luck would have it two of them were pretty much the same size which helps a little. Unfortunately the measurements are only very rough because it’s a little harder to do that accurately when there are 3 pigs and the 2 that aren’t being measured are trying to eat your wellies or your trousers!

As with the first set of weaners we haven’t given the pigs “pet” names but for convenience they are identified by the colouring on their back legs as mentioned in an earlier post.

Two Legs / Lefty

Heart Girth (measuring around the body just behind the front legs) = 0.94 m

Length (measured from between the ears to the base of the tail) = 0.99 m

Approximate weight is: (0.94 ² x 0.98 x 69.3) = 60.6 kg


Heart Girth  = 0.92 m

Length  = 1.00 m

Approximate weight is: (0.92 ² x 1.00 x 69.3) =  58.6 kg


My understanding is that they should be between 60-70Kg live weight by around 6 months old because they are a slower growing rare breed and particularly considering that they are outdoor reared pigs.

Based on these figures everything seems to be going according to plan so far and they look to be on course for the target weight by the due date if all goes well.

There are a few more steps to negotiate before we can crank up the sausage making machine again so now is the time to do the planning. It’s better to make the plans now rather than when we return home after collecting 3 pigs worth of pork from the butchers!

No doubt there will be some outdoor reared, free-range, rare breed pork available for sale at very reasonable prices in due course!

Small Plot Big Ideas in print again!

Home Farmer - Aug 2014
Home Farmer – Aug 2014

The blog posts here may have been much less frequent in recent weeks due to work commitments but they can’t compete with my “regularly” published articles in Home Farmer magazine.

The first article was in the May 2013 issue and the latest has just been published in the August 2014 issue. Obviously an article every year or so may not be considered prolific by most people and I won’t be giving up my day job any time soon as a result.

However I’m happy to think that technically speaking I’m a published writer and it’s rewarding to see my efforts on the page when they finally make it into print.

Hopefully this has helped to counteract what in my opinion seems to be a bias towards Wales and South West England in the smallholding magazines. There are plenty of smallholders in other parts of the country as well.

I hope the wider reading public feel that their boundless patience after my original article has been amply rewarded by this latest article.

If you don’t already subscribe to Home Farmer then you’ll need to buy a copy if you want to read the article. However I can highly recommend the informative and wide-ranging content in each issue so, in my opinion at least, a subscription is worth every penny!

Unfortunately this particular series of articles has probably reached a natural conclusion but I’m very happy to consider any other ideas for future articles.