There’s more to life than livestock

After having such a busy past few weeks, the blog updates inevitably had to suffer. There have been far too many things going on (both cows calving, piglets weaned/sold etc.) as well as our popular holiday let not to mention the full-time day job and there are only so many hours in the day.

It’s definitely time for some updates on the other aspects of life on our North Pennines smallholding.


Our 2 egg laying hens are doing us proud lately with regular egg production and also looking pretty good while they stroll leisurely around the place as if they owned it.

The good looking egg layers
The good looking egg layers

For the record, they are named Birdy and Babs after female singers. Babs (on the right in the photo) is a Columbine and she lays blue eggs with an occasional double-yokers for good measure.

Raised Beds

After a slow start to the growing season, things are now looking a little more respectable but there are still a couple of empty patches due to earlier failures or poor growth. These will be filled very soon with something else so that we at least get something out of each raised bed

The current pride and joy is the middle raised bed which this year holds a selection of vegetables, all of which seem to be doing very well.

Reassuringly straight lines
Reassuringly straight lines

From left to right – lettuce, leeks, chard (recently harvested and very tasty), carrots, swede, more carrots and finally some rather unimpressive peas (luckily just out of shot)

Fruit Trees

Last year was not such a good year for the fruit trees, mostly I think because we have a large number of jackdaws and other birds in the general area who must have been hungry!

Hopefully I can get more organised this year and protect the fruit before the birds start attacking them.

A promising haul of apples
A promising haul of apples

As for the pears, it might not seem like much to others but last year we had no sign of any pears. This year one of the two trees actually has some fruit – although to be honest, I shouldn’t use the term “some fruit” when there’s only a single pear!

One pear is not a pair
One pear is not a pair

Preparing for spring

Last weekend saw some long-overdue clearing up of the raised beds and perhaps not a moment too soon as the current long-term weather forecast seems to show there will be no late spring cold snap this year.

Clearing a raised bed with some little helpers
Clearing a raised bed with some little helpers

After some minor setbacks last spring with plants being slow to get started due to the usual over-eagerness to get things planted and growing, this year I have come up with a new master plan.

My theory is that around the 3rd Saturday in March (the 21st this year) I will plant seeds in pots for a few selected vegetables and leave them in indoors to germinate. The likely contenders for this phase will be those that take a while to germinate or anything that needs a longer growing season.

This will be followed on the 3rd Saturday in April (the 18th this year) with the first seeds planted direct outside when the weather has warmed up a little. This will include everything else I am planning to grow this year and will hopefully be the start of some properly planned succession planting.

As part of preparations for the busy days of spring, I managed to clear a few other jobs which had been hanging around waiting for the right weather (and motivation). The most important of these was to properly plant the new fruit trees which had been heeled in for the last few weeks.

Fruit trees finally in place
Fruit trees finally in place

Learning some important lessons from the last attempt at planting fruit trees, this location is a little more exposed but still protected by other trees and it’s definitely better drained soil so the it should work out fine. I have also installed extra posts when planting to support chicken wire wrapped around in addition to the rabbit guards at the base of each one.

We had some damage last year from wild deer when they took a liking to nibbling the leaves but the chicken wire should do the trick for now at least. I like to see the deer roaming around the local area but I might change my mind if they have another go at my young fruit trees!

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?

There’s always something new to learn!

It’s amazing the little snippets you come across when you least expect it. I was reading through an on-line article about composting from the Telegraph and was surprised by one particular part of this section:

Compost dos and don’ts

Do add to the heap

  • All grass clippings
  • Cut flowers
  • Kitchen waste, eg broad bean pods, outside lettuce leaves, peelings
  • Weeds — not those going to seed. Not persistent perennials
  • All cardboard and paper (shredded), but not very heavily inked or glossy
  • Cotton clothes

Don’t add to the heap

  • Cooked food — it encourages rats and flies
  • Citrus — bake on a low heat in the oven and then use as fire lighters instead
  • Egg shells — too slow to break down
  • Coarse bark — too slow to break down
  • Wood shavings — most are treated with preservatives, so best avoided
  • Perennial weed roots — they will start to grow and invade the whole heap
  • Plants which have gone to seed — they will just shed all their seed into the heap and germinate when you spread the compost
  • Anything diseased — e.g. wood infected with honey fungus or courgettes with mildew — this will encourage fungal spread
  • Man-made fabric — will not decompose

via Composting: make your own black gold – Telegraph.

This is a pretty standard list of items for composting that you might find on any number of websites. However, when I read the part about citrus fruit, my first reaction was one of mild disbelief mostly because I thought I would have heard of this before now if it was true. How can it be possible that citrus fruit peelings are any good as fire lighters?

However, this seems to be confirmed by many other pages I found on the web, this is just one example:

Orange Peel Firelighters

The citrus oils in dried orange and tangerine peel make it an effective firelighter. If you have a Rayburn or Aga you can leave the peel in one of the ovens over night to dry. Alternatively you can put the peel in the oven after cooking. The peel will dry as your oven cools.

via West Coast Reducers (Highland) | Household.

All I need now is the Rayburn or Aga so that I can give this a try!