What happened to November?

I’m not sure how it has happened but after a quick check of the calendar I found that it’s been around 6 weeks since the last blog update. I know that in general not much is growing at this time of year and so there wouldn’t be much progress to report but even by my (generally low) standards this is a bit poor!

I think it must be time to address that deficiency with a general update…


It’s nice to note that almost  everything that has died down in the garden has not done so as a result of my amateur efforts!

After a promising start the runner beans faded out but I like to think that was mostly a consequence of  the very wet weather we had about that time. The leeks which had looked so promising have just not lived up to my optimistic expectations. There is no danger of them winning any competitions but they are still perfectly edible of course (except where the chickens have had a go at them)

On the whole the potatoes, carrots and garlic were fairly successful but the broccoli seedlings I was given ended up mostly being chicken food – at least they seemed to enjoy it!

Perhaps the main disappointment has been the onions which were grown using  sets I ordered from Marshalls. Although they did grow a little the final results don’t look anything like I had expected. I’ve not grown onions before so perhaps I was being unrealistic and maybe next time I’ll try growing them from seed but  use another supplier like Thompson & Morgan instead.


Chickens still happy after 6 months
Chickens still happy after 6 months

The 3 chickens have scarified the furthest section of lawn to within an inch of it’s life but that was only to be expected. One benefit of the recent heavy rain has been that we needed to move the chicken run to the other end of the lawn which has had the effect of limiting any further damage in the original location.

We don’t know what to expect through the winter months but so far we are still getting fairly regular egg laying from them. An occasional 2 egg day is slightly more frequent now perhaps but we careful not to apportion any blame so I won’t name and shame the offender.

The most noticeable difference for me is that I only see the chickens at weekends now – from Monday to Thursday I head off to work in the dark and get back home in the dark. It’s only briefly on a Friday when I can leave work a little earlier and obviously over the weekend that I get to see them in daylight.

Smallholding property hunt

There have been a couple of occasions when we have experienced the minor disappointment of finding what looked to be a suitable property but because we haven’t sold yet we have been unable to take things further. On the bright side though, there have also been a couple of properties which had offers accepted but which have now come back on the market so there’s always hope.

There is a general feeling that the Tyne Valley or North Pennines will probably be the eventual destination but nothing can be finalised until we get a buyer for our property (and have an offer accepted for somewhere too!). We’d like to think that we’re not too bothered at this stage but I’m sure that when the time comes we’ll be just as picky as anyone else would be.

Future plans

Any planning for life on the smallholding will necessarily be guided by the property we finally manage to buy but we are managing to devote some time to general ideas so that at least we feel like we’re making progress.

Having had back garden chickens for some time we will certainly increase the numbers over time and maybe even go for meat birds as well as layers. We got our existing 3  hybrids from Durham Hens and we’re very happy with them but there are many other places like Heydon Bridge Hens, Teviotdale Farm etc if we fancy trying something different.

As far as the other likely livestock we will try, I think that one of early contenders would have to be pigs  – probably Tamworths to start with as I’ve already been for a very entertaining day at Yearle Tamworths near Wooler.  There are generally some weaners available  at most times of the year so we can hopefully plan things to suit our other workload.

I’m still not quite so certain about having cows or goats but in time it would be interesting to work with something for dairy produce. Personally I would favour goats but that’s mainly because I’ve always thought of cows as big scary beasts but also because I have occasionally had some goat meat from The Goat Company and its fantastic when done in a slow cooker.

Perhaps we may chose a few Shetland cattle then they wouldn’t seem so threatening as they are smaller and  they are still very hardy so I might feel a little differently.

There are also loose plans about providing some sort of holiday accommodation but this would depend on the options available on the property we eventually buy. Many  places we have seen have a barn or outbuildings which could be converted but I wouldn’t rule out the idea of a couple of Tents, Yurts or Tipis if there were no other options. I’m very impressed by the set up at Wild Northumbrian but haven’t yet had a chance to try them out – I think I’ll wait until spring now though!

Patience is a virtue

In the meantime we have to recognise that this is not the best financial climate (or time of year) to be selling property. We can only be patient, keep watching the property websites and handle an occasional viewing of our own property.

With so much to take on board and so many mistakes we are likely to make along the way, I’m more than happy to make the most of this time for planning and learning.

Do you have any top tips for novice smallholders that you can share?


Another successful cooking episode

Lavender Tea Cake fresh from the oven
Lavender Tea Cake fresh from the oven

Well, that was an action packed weekend with a range of culinary activities including another batch of my impressive scotch eggs, an excellent slow cooked pot-roast goat and some lavender tea cake as well as the Glendale Show (in the rain).

The lavender tea cake idea came about after a previous post about our lavender looking good in bloom which had included  some links to intriguing recipes that make use of the flowers.

Somehow I hadn’t considered the possibility that it might be useful in cooking as well as just using it for the scent.

If you need any proof then the pictures included here show the results for the Lavender Tea Cake experiment which were reasonably successful. Apart from a slightly soggy patch at the bottom which I suspect was my fault not the recipe!

There was a pleasant hint of lavender throughout the cake without it being overpowering and it was very well received which is always a good sign!

Slices of Lavender Tea Cake
Slices of Lavender Tea Cake

What to try next I wonder?

The lavender flowers are on their way out now so I’ll have to take a wander around the garden to see what’s available. I’m not sure that Runner Bean biscuits are such a good idea but I don’t think there is  much else happening in our garden at the moment!


Runner bean flowers

Recently when watering the runner beans that I had planted in a large tub I noticed a major achievement (for me at least) with the first signs of flowers. As I’ve never grown runner beans before this was a big deal and I’ll be checking them regularly to watch the progress.

Although this is probably nothing special to those who grow runner beans regularly, I find the appearance of the flowers to be strangely (and disproportionately) gratifying. Unfortunately I think that this probably shows the level of belief I had at the beginning that these would produce anything worth mentioning!

As a record of this momentous event I took a photo using my phone:

Flowers on the runner beans
First flowers on my runner beans

At the same time, as the first photo looked pretty good and there was some detail to catch I thought I’d try the “close up” mode that I’d noticed but hardly ever used.  I was suitably impressed with the results of that too:

Close up photo of runner bean flower
Close up

I’m now keeping my fingers crossed for even more flowers and eventually an impressive harvest to top off a successful first attempt at growing runner beans.

No gold medal for my runners

Runner beans in a big tub
Runner beans in a big tub

I don’t have much to compare them with and I’m no runner bean expert but I get the feeling that my runner beans are lagging behind a bit. August is just a weekend away but there doesn’t seem to be as much growth as I had expected.

There has been up to 3 feet of growth winding up the poles but none of that growth has anything much in the way of side growth (leaves, etc). First job would seem to be some research into runner bean development to gauge the performance so far.

I think an important lesson has already been learnt because I realise that if the growth I was expecting had materialised then they were obviously planted far too close together!

The tub was filled with brand new compost so perhaps that had some negative impact on things? The other aspect could be watering as I know that tubs need regular attention but with all the rain lately I assumed that side of things was dealt with.

If I knew what I was talking about I might suspect that the excessive rainfall has washed away the nutrients in the pot so I should add feed occasionally.  Of course I have no idea and I’m just guessing but I might do that anyway.

Leaf damage on runner beans
Suspicious leaf damage on runner beans

One thing seems certain though as the picture shows, there is some wildlife taking chunks from the leaves. I’ll need to keep checking the plants to find out the exact cause though but I’m not interested in spraying chemicals and such like.

It’s not that I’m a great organic fan or a staunch non-chemical gardener, it’s just that at this stage I’d like to know more about what is going on and the typical problems that can arise.

Later on I can look into the various solutions available and pick a suitable line of attack at that time.

There’s still plenty of time left for everything to come good and I’m too much of an optimist to lose hope at this stage.

If all else fails there are some seedlings in what was the potato patch and these are a month or so behind these so all is not lost.

Farewell to the new potatoes

With a final flourish of flavour and texture this year’s harvest of new potatoes has now been completed. There were a few leftovers from the last meal but they won’t last long as I plan to fry them up soon unless they get eaten by someone else before then!

Overall the yields from the handful of plants were quite impressive and if I’m honest probably better than I expected. The plants managed fairly well but it wasn’t an ideal location due to some overhanging growth from next door. The occasional heavy rain also didn’t help and some plants were quite badly beaten into submission in the end.

Half of their veg bed is already taken up with some runner beans and some more of the hand-me-down broccoli seedlings because I’m trying to make the best of my limited space. I’m sure there will be a couple of potatoes that turn up when I dig over the remaining part of the bed before putting in something else.

The most likely candidates to fill this space are some extra carrots which could be ready for planting out by early August. These are a fast growing variety so they should be ready for a harvest before the northern autumn weather sets in (I hope).