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

A real rollercoaster weekend

Last weekend was the second anniversary of our move and was also probably the most stressful weekend so far. Now that the dust has started to settle and there are plans in place to deal with the various problems I can take stock with a blog update!


After what seems like a very long wait, Friday was the day that our 2 Dexters were finally being delivered. They are both 3 years old and, according to the vet check before departure, they are in calf with one 12 weeks along and the other only 5 weeks along.

Having waited so long and done so much planning ahead of time, it seems that fate decided to mix things up a bit. As new cattle owners we had tried our best to cover all eventualities but hadn’t considered that they would be extremely grumpy after the dramatic events of the day.

Immediately when they were unloaded into their new home they promptly disappeared over a stone wall, through our woods and over another wall into the neighbours fields!

The calm before the storm
The calm before the storm

They somehow ended up in separate fields and apparently unable to see or hear each other which was less than ideal. After much rushing around up and down the neighbours hilly fields over the next 24 hours we eventually had to give up on getting them back together.

First thing on the Saturday morning, I found an unexpected sight around the chicken house but unfortunately she still wasn’t happy enough to stay. Within minutes she’d hopped back over the walls and into the neighbours field again.

An early morning visitor
An early morning visitor

Obviously the best option was to let them calm down in their own time and tackle the problem later. Luckily while checking them on the Sunday morning one of them decided that it was time to head back uphill and find their companion.

In due course some progress was made even though they’re still not in our fields, at least they’re next door. The next job is to get the fencing man in to raise the boundaries of their initial home then we can considered herding them around the corner and back onto our own land.

Suspicious stares
Suspicious stares


On a lighter note and as a distraction from the cattle stress, the veg beds got some long overdue attention. Finally some more seedlings could get planted out into their final growing position and I can clear up some of the cold frame area.

The additional raised bed that was added at the last minute has really helped with my usual problem of planting too many things in pots and trays! The lettuce, dwarf beans and nasturtiums all seem to be getting well established now.

It might be nice to see a little more progress from the peas but I’m happy that they are at least making slow progress. Maybe the experiences with the cows will remind me to be more grateful for the simple pleasures and less demanding overall!

A quick check on the soft fruit and fruit trees also helped to raise the mood on what could otherwise have been a very dispiriting weekend.

There’s always a smile to be had with a picture gallery!


Planning seems to be paying off

I’ll probably change my mind when summer gets here but at the moment this is definitely my favourite time of year. The first swallow arrived yesterday – only 5 days later than last year – which I’m definitely taking as a good sign even though it was only one bird so far.

There is so much happening right now with the seeds starting to put on some impressive growth and the effort put in through the winter with the planting plans starting to pay off.

I’ve even managed to resist the urge to plant too much too soon this year which is a first for me. Having said that I think I might still have planted a little too much but at least it wasn’t too soon!

Original raised bed plan
Original raised bed plan

The only minor change to the original plans I’d made during the winter was to also plant a selection of flower seeds as well as vegetable and herb seeds. I suspect that this helped to ease my excessive planting urge because I could plant other seeds instead.

Actually, I now remember that there was another “minor” change when I added the new 20ft long raised bed a few weeks ago. However in my mind that doesn’t really count as breaking the plans because I’m simply adding more growing space for the courgettes which went so well last year.

Next year will certainly be a little different though as there are grand plans in my head for a polytunnel (maybe 10ft x 20ft) and even a greenhouse but I may need to seek approval from my better half before going ahead with all of that!

Where did September go?

Almost without my noticing, the time has just shot by with no blog updates for quite some time. The various demands of the day job and the associated travel have become more of a priority. On top of that, more time is needed to process the pork from our pigs into bacon and sausage then distribute the results to friends and family.

It’s already October and autumn is well underway – at least it is in our part of the world. The success from the relatively small collection of leaves last year has provided some lovely leaf mould so there are plans to increase these efforts this year.

Given the lack of updates recently, this seemed a good time to bring together a few pictures to illustrate the recent results of this years growing season.

The purple podded peas proved to be very productive but for some reason the dwarf beans didn’t do as well as last year. The leeks and carrots were slow to get established but the beetroot performed well as usual. The biggest surprise for me – apart from the crop from the existing strawberry plants – was the swede which I grew for the first time this year. It’s doing very well and proving to be very tasty!

There are hopes for more to come over the next few weeks particularly from the new raised beds. But it won’t be long before thoughts will have to turn to planning for next year!






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!

The time has just flown by!

We’re still at the stage of keep track of how long we’ve been here although I’m sure that will change eventually. For now though, we’re doing the counting in weeks rather than months and it’s flying by!

This is the sixth week now and there is certainly never a dull moment…


Freshly cut hay
Freshly cut hay

The 2 meadows out the front have been cut by a neighbouring farmer and the current good weather will be really helpful.

I’m mentally taking notes about how this is done even though I don’t expect to be doing it myself at any point in the near future. It’s just good to watch and learn.

As this picture shows it has only just been cut so it will need turning a few times.

While I was out taking this photo of the meadow I realised it was probably time to post a progress update for the vegetables (more on this below).

Vegetable bed plans

All available veg bed space has now been used for something and there are plans to extend the current area for next year.

One idea is to convert up to 1/3 of the very large lawn area into a more productive space. The original thinking was for something like an orchard area with some raised veg beds alongside but a grander term for this might be “forest garden” if you favour the permaculture approach.

Either way I foresee the strong possibility of a continuous battle against rabbit incursions so I will definitely need to include defences in the overall plan!

Veg bed photo gallery

Having taken a range of photos of the vegetable progress, it seems a good excuse to try out the gallery facility that is provided within the WordPress system I use. My first impressions are that it does an excellent job and it’s certainly easy for me to set up.

However the experience will perhaps be different for people just reading this and viewing the pictures so let me know in the comments what you think.

Just click on any of the thumbnail images below and the gallery will load to let you see the large versions of the photos…


Slow and steady progress with the vegetables

Main vegetable growing area
Main vegetable growing area

There are a couple of areas that have obviously been set aside for vegetables in the past The main veg bed must have previously been a set of raised beds but now the framing has gone so I decided to level off the soil and convert it back into a single bed divided by paths.

As can be seen in the picture, the existing rhubarb (at the back) has been brought back into line with the huge flowers removed and many of the older, chunkier leaves taken off. this will be followed by a good mulching so hopefully in future this will continue to be productive.

I’ve decided to keep our original rhubarb in the pots where I planted them earlier this year. Maybe I’ll move them early next year perhaps but they probably need to get established where they are this year.

While on a recent trip to buy some machinery (a heavy duty strimmer), we popped into a nearby garden centre and I couldn’t resist getting a couple of trays of cabbage seedlings – one labelled as January King and the other Ruby Red I think.

Maybe 2 trays of 12 plants will prove to be too many though as they are now taking up much more space than I had planned to use for cabbages! Hopefully I can squeeze in a catch crop before they get too big as I need somewhere to plant out the lettuce seedlings that are coming on so well.

The peas and beetroot seeds at the back are only just starting to show signs of growth but I’m quite happy with that as the seeds have only been in for 2 weeks!

Existing Raised Beds

In an adjacent area there are 4 raised beds left by the previous owners which I have retained but as we’ve not been here long I have no specific plan for them.

Original raised beds
Original raised beds to be kept

On the first weekend we got here I planted some onion, carrots and beetroot but I deliberately left a little space for the moment so I can plant some more seeds once the first batch get going.

These beds also had some existing strawberry plants which are  a new thing for me. In the past I haven’t been bothered about soft fruit but now I’ve got a lot more space I’m starting to think about setting aside an area and investing in a fruit cage or similar. Something for the future I think as there is more than enough to be getting with right now.

Hopefully all I need is to maybe put down a little straw to keep the fruit off the damp soil and then maybe some sort of netting over the top to keep out the birds.

Despite those plans, I don’t hold out a lot of hope for getting fruit from these plants as the wall around this area seems to be populated with field mice. I’ve seen a couple of them but they are hard to spot – I’m sure they’ll be hungry for strawberries at some point.

Chicken Shacks

The chicken shack village is made up a number of “inherited” buildings from the previous owners (in the foreground) which are towering over the low rise chicken house we brought with us when we moved here (just visible near the back).

Chicken shack village
Chicken shack village

There is a main chicken house for the rooster (now known as John) and his ten lady friends – in the centre of the picture – and a couple of storage sheds on the left. One of these has a run attached which is currently home to a broody hen who has been sitting on 7 eggs for a week or two – it was eight eggs when we first got here but we think a stoat must have paid them a visit perhaps?

This is all situated between the paddocks at the back so the hens are not as close to the house as we were used to but now we have a rooster as well this is not such a bad thing in my opinion!

Luckily the two sets of chickens have settled into a truce where each set ignores the other apart from the occasional ruffling of feathers if there is food is involved. If anything I think it helps that our 3 hybrid hens are larger than the existing 10 hens which goes some way to compensate for the greater numbers should any disagreements arise.

Assessing the first week

Now that we’ve reached the end of our first week here it makes sense to take stock of our (limited) progress so far. There are many things we’d like to do at some point in the future but we can only do a few at a time if we’re going to do them well.


The existing flock of hens and cockerel are settling in to life under the new regime. I’m now being greeted by some of them in the morning when I turn up with some food, obviously I just have to accept that it’s the food they’re pleased to see and not me!

Fruit and Vegetables

After my preparations with planting rhubarb crowns in pots so they can move with us, I find a huge rhubarb plant already in place here. I don’t know how we missed it when viewing the house and land but it is throwing up a couple of large flowers which is something I’ve not seen before. I’ll eventually cut them off and try to bring the plant back into line but it’s nice to see for now.


There has been an urgent spate of seed planting although some are a little later than they should have been so we may not get great results. Beetroot, peas, carrots and onions have all been sown in the existing veg bed plus the longest chitted potatoes in history (March to June) are now also in their own area. Lettuces have also been sown in a seed tray but I’m not sure if they will get to any decent size as our rabbit population may be feeling a bit peckish. Careful though on fencing is needed I think.

Unfortunately it looks like the raspberry canes I transplanted into pots for the move have not taken too kindly to my efforts but there is still time for them to come around so I’ll wait a little longer.

Time will tell how much of a return we will get from all of this but I’m keen to learn about how things grow here and which areas are best for which types of plants. We’ll definitely get something for our efforts but it may be partly a crop and mostly some experience.

Meadows and pasture

The easy bits for us are the meadows which are looking great right now with lots of wildflowers giving a splash of colour. These will eventually get cut for hay around the middle of July and luckily for us a local farmer is happy to deal with that for us.


The pastures at the back of the house are rapidly filling with lush green grass as they have been empty during the period while the house was being sold. Now that we are in and feeling a bit more settled we have arranged for some sheep to be put on there by early next week (courtesy of the local farmer again). Perhaps next year we may consider some of our own but for now we can just watch from afar.


Any plans for the woods are still in the very early stages so its lucky that with trees everything moves at a much slower pace. Eventually maybe some pigs can be rotated through different areas but for now it’s better to sit back and see how things develop.

Potting shed

This will eventually be my pride and joy, a proper space to set up a potting shed with work benches and everything. One of the first tasks in there will be to put up some handy hooks and shelves so I can organise all the tools and equipment.

Enjoying the new environment

After the long build up to this move it has been a relief to have it all behind us. The whole transition has been helped by some wonderfully warm, sunny weather and long may it continue! One highlight has been evening walks through the woods after a final check on the chickens, some great views across the valley and lovely sunsets.

The long days mean more time to get things done but the downside is always the short nights especially when the morning sun shines directly into the bedroom despite the curtains. At least the cockerel is far enough away though…

Early signs are encouraging

The rhubarb crowns that I planted in pots earlier  are beginning to show signs of life although the fact that I originally planted one on its side probably didn’t help.

Stockbridge Arrow
Stockbridge Arrow is the first to show

My excuse is that it wasn’t easy to figure out which way was “up” when I received the crowns through the post.

Luckily I had my doubts within a few days of the originally planting them and it was a quick thing to fix with hopefully no adverse effects on the growth and future cropping!

Although i planted both varieties in matching pots with the same compost, it’s the Stockbridge Arrow variety which is looking the best. Perhaps this is the result of using bubble wrap over that pot instead of the horticultural fleece which covered the pot with the Champagne variety?

Champagne rhubarb
Champagne rhubarb is not so promising (…yet)

These pictures really highlight the difference and if I wasn’t such an optimist I might have had thoughts of giving up on the Champagne variety.

However it’s still very early days and I’ve never grown rhubarb before so it makes more sense to keep an eye on it and let nature do what it does best.

They can be easily transported with us when we move house and I have no other use for those pots at the moment!

The cheap lettuce seeds I bought in the sales that were planted only last week are already showing promise which encouraged me to plant some more vegetable seeds this weekend. This even included some beetroot and peas in the garden veg beds which had been covered for a few weeks in preparation.

The cloches went straight back on again afterwards as well because the weather is unlikely to be in my favour just yet! I’m also choosing to ignore the fact that with any luck our house move will take place before these reach a suitable point for harvesting – the new owners can treat them as a house-warming present though.

I hope I don’t regret that in the future when I have too many plants and nowhere to put them. I can always give them away I suppose so watch this space in the coming weeks as there maybe a vegetable plant give away!

Promising signs from the lettuce seeds
Promising signs from the lettuce seeds

A promising start to 2013

We are 2 months into 2013 and looking back now I can see that although things have progressed, there is still some way to go. My efforts are focused on avoiding potential mishaps or delays but I’m told that this is a form of negative thinking – Personally I’d rather be prepared if possible.

Nice weather for a second viewing
Nice weather for a second viewing

Now that we have our buyers in place, the paperwork in motion and mortgage dealt with we have been able to assess the chain of purchasers. This is pleasantly short with only three property sales involved and first time buyers at one end and our sellers moving into rented accommodation. There is always a faint worry about the chain collapsing somewhere else but the  fact that there are so few links should help.

It felt a little odd to  have a second viewing after our offer had already been accepted but luckily there was nothing of any great importance to put us off – not even the weather could dampen the enthusiasm for the future.

I have so far beaten my usual impatience and managed to hold off sowing any seeds but I think this week will see some seeds going into trays/pots indoors. For some reason I feel the need to get things moving especially if it encourages the arrival of spring but I know that anything planted out before moving house will be left for the new owners.

This year sees some new vegetables that I’ve not tried before  so I’m keen to learn what will happen and at least I can take that knowledge with me even if the plants are left behind! I think a few beetroot and carrot will be the first phase but I’ll wait until this weekend before planting out the peas just to be certain the current cold spell is over. I’ll also be sure to keep some seed back for later so I can also try them when we get to the new place.

The 3 chickens are still laying intermittently with just an occasional “jelly” egg (perhaps once a week) which I think must be an egg with little or no shell on it. They are all in good health and are enjoying trashing the far corner of our garden now that some new fencing is in place to keep them there!  I had expected a more noticeable slow down in egg production or even some days with none at all but so far we always get a couple – except when egg collecting duties are handled by an over enthusiastic 6-year-old.