Preparing the raised veg beds

As always, the arrival of spring here in the North Pennines is a little later than the areas further south of us. Of course, that also means we’re slightly ahead of those areas that are even further north of us but it’s hard to imagine an even shorter growing season than we get here.

The area that I set aside for raised veg beds back in 2014 has had a chequered time over the years with a constant running battle with our local rabbit population.

At the last count, I now have 3 layers of protection ranging from some old wire garden fencing with some added chicken wire and finally some leftover weld mesh from when we assembled our chicken run.

Raised veg beds in fenced enclosure
Raised Beds 2024

I don’t want to get ahead of myself just yet but I think I may just have got those pesky rabbits beaten at last

Although we have 4 compost bins and they are pretty much ready to be spread, there just wouldn’t have been enough to top up all the raised beds. That meant it was time to turn to the local compost supplier for a delivery.

a delivery of 3 dumpy bags of compost
Compost delivery 2024

Within a few days the 3 bags were quickly reduced to just one full bag and a bit left in another. That was all the raised veg beds topped up plus half a dozen potato sacks part filled with compost too.

Any remaining compost left now will be used to fill gaps as the growing season progresses and also it will help to earth up the potato crop later this year

Keeping the rabbits out

There’s never enough time for all the possible jobs on our smallholding so there’s an element of prioritising the available time. However, growing and eating some of our own produce will always be a high priority for me.

The growing season starts a little later in the year for us as demonstrated by the last growing update that was posted in April and featured very little plant growth. I still enjoy growing some fresh, healthy food from just a few small seeds though and maybe one day when I have more spare time I’ll advance to a greenhouse or polytunnel as well.

It can be tricky to keep on top of the weeding, watering and general care along with all the other jobs – especially in the summer months. This is made even harder if the rabbits are happily sneaking in to the raised beds whenever they want.

Good growth from the dwarf beans and swedes

For the moment we have a combination of green, plastic coated wire fencing in place with added chicken wire because the baby rabbits kept squeezing through the small holes.

This seems to have been working well recently, especially now that I’ve started regular detailed examinations and made minor repairs as needed. Earlier this year there was a major set back by about 2-3 weeks after one or more intruders nibbled the tops off just about everything.

Eventually I must get around to replace this ramshackle fencing with something more presentable but for the moment it’s just important that the one task is handled properly – keeping my veg safe from the rabbits!

Nice straight lines for chard, parsnips, courgettes, leeks, dwarf beans and onions

The raised beds are really starting to come good now after the additions from our compost bins, some well rotted leaves from a couple of years ago and also the ash from our biomass pellet boiler every month or so.

Mixed results from the carrots and leeks

With just one bed (carrots and leeks) giving me cause for concern at this stage, I have high hopes for an ever increasing harvest in the coming weeks.

So far we’ve only had some chard (very nice as always) but I’m hoping for some decent small carrots when I get around to thinning those out.

First courgette on the way

The first few courgettes are always exciting of course but I also remember that they are soon followed by a glut despite my best efforts at succession sowing.

Some beetroot seedlings doing well

While I’m not a big fan of beetroot, it’s so easy to grow that I can’t stop myself sowing some seeds most years. Usually it goes nicely with some salad or occasionally we roast some with other root veg. This year I’m also planning to freeze some for use later so I’m hoping that I’ve sown about the right amount.

Time to consider the vegetable plans

Last year there just wasn’t enough hours in the day to spend any real time on the vegetable growing side of things. With a day job as well as the livestock and other land management tasks taking up all of my time, it was a tough but ultimately the best decision.

In the end I simply had to accept that some areas had to be left untouched and that they would inevitably disappear under the weed growth. There was no way I could keep on top of all the available growing space so it was better to tackle just a sensible and manageable amount.

A little extra compost to top it up

This year I hope to build on that hard lesson by increasing the growing space used – but just a little. A combination of shorter but more frequent weeding sessions and also plenty of mulching should help to keep on top of any weeds.

The first batch of outside seed sowing has already been done with some carrots sown in the left hand bed shown below. This also has a plastic cover over the top just to help protect it from the cooler evenings we still seem to get at the moment. The other plastic cover has been put in place ready for planting out other vegetables later on.

Very happy with the progress at this stage

Nearly all of the raised beds are looking very respectable at the moment and just about ready for sowing or planting out. The raised bed containing the soft fruit (far right) still needs some care and attention but that has a weed fabric in place so any tidy up shouldn’t be too difficult.

Now that it finally seems the last of winter has passed, over I can get on with some proper seed sowing the course of the next week or two. This will be a more concentrated effort because in previous years I’ve tried spreading the work out and ended up getting confused with what was planted and when!

When is a dwarf bean no longer dwarf?

The very first early seeds were sown a few weeks ago using a donated heated propagator but they have been a little too successful I think. These are supposed to be dwarf beans and they have got a bit ahead of themselves.

These poor plants also suffered when I was potting them on last weekend. The chickens spotted them while my back was turned and in the space of a minute or two they had descended on them.

Luckily the damage wasn’t too bad in the end but some of the leaves must have been a very tasty treat!

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

Reaching another milestone

Surprisingly, today marks the 4th anniversary of the move to our smallholding in the North Pennines. This is hard to believe partly because it’s just 4 years since we left the suburban semi-detached house but also because it feels longer than 4 years given that so much has happened in that time.

From having 3 chickens in our suburban back garden to a 15 acre smallholding with an assortment of chickens, some rare breed Tamworth pigs (plus piglets) and some pedigree Dexter cows (plus calves). It’s been an amazing journey so far even just from a livestock perspective never mind the converted barn for holiday lets.

The ups and downs along the way have been both educational and humbling in equal measure but the overwhelming feeling is that we have been extremely lucky and we should continue trying to make the most of the opportunity.

We have been helped along the way by far too many people to mention but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate all the help and advice provided though. We still have a lot to learn though and without the knowledge and experience of others we definitely wouldn’t have made it this far.

Over time it’s becoming clear that there will never be a point when we can just sit back and relax. Mostly because there’s always a job that needs to be done or another mad idea to plan and pursue. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

To celebrate this significant milestone, here are a few of my favourite pictures from the past 4 years


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!


Vegetable raised bed update

Despite holding off a little longer this year before starting with veg growing, it seems that I was still far too keen even though some of the seeds were initially planted inside to germinate. Eventually they still needed to be planted out but the weather in our part of the world just hasn’t warmed up as quickly as I’d hoped.

After a slow start there is finally something to show for all the efforts now that the red cabbage and red brussels sprouts have been transplanted in the raised beds last weekend.

Red cabbage and red brussels sprouts
Red cabbage and red brussels sprouts

Unfortunately things don’t look quite so good where I’ve been planting seed directly into their final growing positions. The raised bed that was set aside for carrots and parsnips this year looks distinctly unimpressive and I may need to investigate a backup plan if nothing happens soon.

Carrots and parsnips supposedly
Carrots and parsnips supposedly

After last years successful crop, there was no reason not to grow swede again and at least this has proved to be more resilient. The netting is already up to protect from the expected rush of pests even though the plants themselves aren’t yet of a size to make much of a meal for the bugs!

Red cabbage and red brussels sprouts
The swedes are covered

On the bright side though, the soft fruit is doing well in the temporary home of a raised bed. Eventually this will be moved to a permanent home but I’m taking my time with that after learning a hard lesson when planting fruit trees in what turned out to be an underground pond in winter!

Black and Red Currants doing well
Black and Red Currants doing well

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!

Spring is here…

A week of fine, dry weather which coincided with taking time off from the day job – what are the chances of that happening?

This stroke of luck meant that I was able to get cracking with many jobs in the hope that preparations could be made so things don’t get out of hand like last year.

Most importantly to my mind, the seed trays are all labelled properly rather than using an old lolly stick which inevitably fades and gets covered in dirt so I can’t read what I wrote on it.


The first batches of vegetable seeds were sown over the third weekend in March, a little later than last year and a sign of what I consider to be my admirable restraint. In most cases, the various trays and pots were promptly stashed in the fairly warm loft to germinate.

Carrots on their way
Carrots on their way

However the leeks were left outside in the cold frame based on advice I read that they prefer colder conditions to germinate. This would seem to be true because they are looking okay so far.

Out of interest, I decided to test the leeks using 3 pots of “Gro Sure” seed compost alongside 3 pots with “John Innes”. There doesn’t seem too much difference in the results at the moment but it’s still early days.

Comparing compost with leeks
Comparing compost with leeks

There are now carrots, red cabbage, swede and leeks to name a few starting to show above the soil so I’m happy that I’m on course for planting out properly in a few weeks time.

The only minor concern is that there is no sign of life from the lettuce yet but perhaps that is down to using an old packet of seed that I found. I’ll give them a little longer to come up before worrying too much.

Flower seeds

I also decided to plant a range of flower seeds this year – partly for variety because I focus on vegetables too much but also because the garden could use some colour and scent at times!

To my surprise and satisfaction these came up even quicker than many of the vegetable seeds I had sown…

Flower seeds making good progress
Flower seeds making good progress

All in all, a highly productive week and a feeling that good progress has been made in preparation for the rest of the growing season!

I even managed to squeeze in another raised bed using some left over materials I had lying around. I did have to buy in a few bags of compost but I was able to mix that with some home-produced compost that needed to be shifted.

You can never have too many
You can never have too many

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!