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

Catching up with things

It’s been a very busy time over the last few months and the weeks just fly by but I’ve eventually realised that some events had not been fully covered by a blog update. Many events do get mentioned briefly through the Facebook or Twitter accounts but that doesn’t include much detail so it seems right that I post more information here.


This year we got exactly what we’d hoped for with the calving. A red heifer calf (Primrose) from Nellie on 30 May followed a few weeks later by a “black” bull calf (Frank) from Daisy on 12 June.

My initial belief that Frank was black is proving to be a little wrong and he is actually a lovely shade of brown which I assume should officially be called “dun”.

Frank (left) and Primrose (right)
Frank (left) and Primrose (right)

We are now looking forward to the arrival of the pedigree Dexter bull that we’re borrowing this year. We’ve heard good things about him and saw him while he was at a friends farm recently so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for another good result when calving time comes around next May or June.


We have 4 pigs from the first litter (from Sissy) and they are developing nicely. As we didn’t raise any pigs for meat last year, it’s been a good reminder this year for monitoring their growth and planning for the inevitable departure.  We don’t take this any more lightly now that we’ve had pigs for 4 years, it’s just as important to us now that they have a good life while they’re with us and a stress-free final trip to the abattoir.

The first 2 pigs from the older litter will be heading off to the butchers by early August and when I calculated their weight at 6 months old they were roughly 60kg which is fairly respectable. At feeding time tonight I managed another quick measurement for weight calculations and they are almost up to 74kg now.

Sissy and gang
Sissy and gang

Amazingly this is exactly what I’d been hoping for as they will be going off in 2 weeks time and should be about 80kg at that time. This is ideal for a basic “porker” like the first ones going off where we just want pork joints, sausages etc. With some careful monitoring, the other 2 pigs from this litter will go off about 3-4 weeks later when they’ll hopefully be 90kg or just over which is a better weight for a “baconer”.

The first batch of pork will be available for sale from 20 Aug and this year we also have 3 pigs from the second litter (from Esther) who are roughly 2 months younger. This will help to give us a regular supply of pork for sale from summer through to autumn or later this year.

More details on the pork for sale will be posted on the blog in due course and also on the Small Plot Big Ideas “shop” page on Facebook

Veg beds

Despite some poor results in other areas with growing produce this year, the garlic and onions that were planted last Autumn have now been harvested. The fairly respectable haul is currently drying in an outhouse while I think about the best way (and place) to store them. This is the second time that I’ve grown garlic and onions this way and I’m really pleased with the results. I think they’re definitely on the list for next year so I’ll need to reserve a spot to plant some more this autumn.

Garlic and onion crop
Garlic and onion crop

After a complete failure (yet again) with the dwarf beans, I’ve almost managed to fill the space with my excess leeks and some chard. I’m also hoping to get some more carrots sown in there very soon as well because we can always use more carrots and they are easy to grow – although never very straight!

With just a single row of parsnips this year, I think that Christmas dinner might be sorted out but not many parsnips left after that. I’ve never had much luck with germinating the seeds and I often think I won’t bother with them next time… However, the taste of a roasted parsnip which came fresh from the garden is something really special so I expect I’ll persevere with them.

Just space for one more row of something
Just space for one more row of something

Overall it’s been a pretty good growing season this year with no prolonged excessively dry (or wet) spells. There were some problems with rabbits sneaking in and nibbling my lettuces but adding some chicken wire to the boundary fence has fixed that problem.

The newly installed scarecrows from Waltons are now dealing with any potential problems with the extensive bird life in the garden. If I’m honest I really don’t mind sharing a little of it with them but I’m not sure they’ll leave any behind if I don’t do something!

Mr and Mrs keep watch
Mr and Mrs keep watch

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

Successes and failures in the raised beds

With so much attention focussed on the livestock over the last few months, it made a pleasant change to spend some time on the raised beds were put in place after we moved here.  Even though some of the results this year are not as good as hoped, the simple fact that we can eat fresh produce from the garden is still very rewarding.

This will hopefully be the last year of significant experimentation with vegetables in the raised beds. Over the past 2-3 years I’ve tried a selection of different crops and different varieties of our favourites with the idea of identifying what works best in our location.

For the second year in a row, the dwarf beans have been unimpressive and I suspect that any success in the first year was purely luck. Mostly the problem was down to poor germination but even those I’ve planted out are now looking too impressive. I think it’s likely that I’ll give these a miss for a year or two now in favour of something more reliable.

Dwarf beans and extra carrots
Dwarf beans and extra carrots

As reliable as ever, the leeks always seem to do well here and this year is the third different area I’ve tried them in so they must like the general location.

These will definitely be on the regular list for vegetables to grow and hopefully this year I’ve got the quantity right as there were far too many last year!


Despite a slow start with the carrots there are now quite a few growing on in the raised beds. It was a battle early on when sowing seeds direct and as a result there aren’t as many as I’d hoped now.

However, compared to the difficulties with just germinating parsnip seeds, the carrots could be counted as a comparative success. Even though we love eating fresh, home-grown parsnip in the winter the problems with getting them started means that I may not bother with them next year.

Carrots and parsnips
Carrots and parsnips

After an unexpected success last year with my first attempts at growing chard, this got another chance again this year and yet again is doing really well.

Easy to grow with a cut and come again approach to harvesting plus it’s really tasty when cooked – this is sure to be on the list for future years.

Chard and self-seeded nasturtiums
Chard and self-seeded nasturtiums

As usual for me, I think I planted the first batch of courgette seeds too soon so they were never going to do well. However the second batch benefitted from my first attempts at using a heated propagator. Of course I now have too many courgette plants again this year but isn’t that obligatory if you grow courgettes?

The 2 onions in this picture were actually planted elsewhere last year but came to nothing so I moved them to an empty this spring. After a few months they’ve developed quite well – perhaps better than last years onions did – so that’s a bit of a bonus and perhaps an indication that they would do well in this bed?


Every year so far swedes have been the most reliable crop I’ve grown here and this year looks to be no different. I seems that nothing I do will stop the swede seeds from germinating and growing into a tasty crop!

Luckily it’s become a favourite in the kitchen too so there’s always a place for swedes in the raised beds.


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

Progress report

I realise that it’s been some time since the last blog update. This is despite a temporary and unplanned change in my employment status which, as it happens, came at a very good time with so much to do.

Luckily right now it’s a blustery, showery Sunday afternoon so I can happily come inside for a change without feeling like I am neglecting the outside jobs!

Raised beds

After finally taking delivery of the wood for the path edges there has been some further progress with the remaining work to finish off the new beds.The edging is now in place all around the outside so the paths can be properly completed as soon as the weather allows.

Around half of the slate chippings have been wheelbarrowed in and it’s starting to take shape but there is just the small matter of shovelling the other 2 tonnes. Weather permitting that will be tackled this week so all the work is completed before any more planting takes place in the raised beds.

Seed sowing

I have sown a range of seeds at irregular intervals since mid-March with the earliest seeds kept in the loft room which should be a fairly warm place to encourage germination. Today it was the turn of a few dwarf French Beans to get sown into pots and more will follow at a suitable interval to prolong the crop I hope.

So far the cabbages, carrots and leeks are all doing well having survived the move outside to the cold frame. The sweetcorn is just getting going although the germination rate is a little disappointing. Those will have to stay indoors for a while longer I think – this is the North Pennines after all!

Another recent addition to the seed and cutting area was a simple strawberry pallet as a trial. A simple use for a pallet but if it works then I intend to have a go at the better pallet planter on the Lovely Greens blog at some point in the future.

Wood clearance

With the eager assistance of some weekend visitors another section of the woods has been cleared and the larger trunks or branches stored away under cover for next years firewood. The job would have taken a lot longer without the help and if I’m honest might not have been started until much later in the year!

The chainsaw and log splitter are being deployed at regular intervals to work through the pile whenever time allows.

Recent Photo Gallery

Given such a delay in updates I think a gallery of photos is needed to give a better overview of the general progress on all fronts.





Trying to get ahead of the game or just impatient for spring

There is a growing feeling that we are almost through the short days and long dark nights of winter. The time is almost here to focus on planning for the coming year, drawing up a planting plan and trying to get one step ahead before everything starts growing again.

I’m ready for the late burst of winter (if it comes) and I’m actually hoping for a bit of snow so I don’t feel like the winter tyres I bought have been a complete waste of time.

Raised Beds

The addition of plastic covers over a couple of the raised beds has generally been a good idea and at the very least it kept the chickens off the onions and garlic.

It took me a while to decide how best to fix everything as I had grand hopes of inventing some sort of home-made cover which would be both removable and adjustable. That simply resulted in indecision so nothing was done but eventually I gave up on the fancy plans and decided to simply attach wooden battens down each side.

An important lesson learned however is to give some rigidity to the structure by bracing each of the hoops along the length of the raised bed. Without this the ends of the cover simply fold in when you attempt to get any tension in the plastic. The two smaller raised beds have deliberately been left without covers but even so more timber is needed to complete the fixing work job!

Covered raised veg beds
Covered raised veg beds

The fixings have so far proved very successful and are definitely more visually appealing than a pile of old stones and rocks.  The next task is to finish pegging out the ground cover fabric along the pathways and cover it with some stone chippings or gravel. With something like 30 metres of paths to layout, edge and fill I think there will soon be another sizeable delivery coming from the local builders merchant.

Solar PV

Despite the predictions of delays with planning applications, barely a couple of months after applying the approval came through. As expected there were no major concerns from anyone so now the work can go ahead as soon as possible – just in time for the weather to improve in spring. I hope these solar panels don’t put a jinx on summer this year!

The idea of ground mounted solar panels (instead of roof mounted) made the most sense for our situation especially given that the main house roof is east/west-facing. The only suitably south-facing area of roof is on a barn but that was considered to be a little too shaded by trees growing close by. Those trees are definitely staying as they include a few healthy looking ash trees which I’d hate to lose.

I believe that the next major hurdle to tackle will be completing the FIT (Feed In Tariff) forms for our electricity supplier but I’m not absolutely certain about that. Up to this point the panel installation company have been very helpful so I’m sure they’ll be able to guide us through the rest of it.


Despite having the pleasure of watching hens hatch and raise her chicks last summer, we are still dealing with the fairly predictable results – too many cockerels.

It was hardly surprising that just over 50% of the chicks that hatched turned out to be male. Unfortunately with their growing maturity this has led to incidents of “unacceptable behaviour” with boys either fighting each other or pestering the hens.

A fine looking specimen
A fine looking specimen

Another helpful lesson that has been learned is that raising chickens for meat is fairly straightforward but the actually killing doesn’t get any easier no matter how many times you do it. I can still recall the one that had been strung up by his feet after being killed only for me to turn around a minute later to see him walking away down the barn!

Perhaps if someone else dealt with the dispatching, plucking and gutting then it might be worth considered in the future. Of course whoever did this would need to be paid and that would most likely cancel out any financial gain!

Longer Days

Each morning is just a little lighter than the last, the snowdrops are already up and the daffodils are starting to push through the remaining fallen leaves and other detritus that we left. This was not a scientific decision to warm the ground for spring, it was more a case that we never got around to clearing it all during autumn/winter!


The temptation is still to look too far ahead in the impatience for spring to arrive. Instead I turn the statement around and try to remember that there’s nothing I can do it stop spring arriving in the end and it will get here soon enough.

Since we moved here less than a year ago, each month brings new things to see, learn or do. We’ll never remember everything but hopefully that’s where this blog will go some way to assisting in future years.

This will be our first spring here so it is eagerly anticipated to see what it brings with lambing, more weaners and getting to grips with the new raised beds. Exciting times ahead!

Veg seeds ordered and 30% off too!

I couldn’t help myself this morning, I spotted on Twitter that there was a one day 30% off promo code (TWITTER30) with (@SeedParade) so I figured I might as well give them a try this year. I’ve not used them before but they seem to have a fairly good selection (although no seed potatoes).

The deal was only valid for today (Fri 24 Jan 2014) but I had been contemplating the list of seeds to get for a few weeks so I was ready to place an order with someone.

Although the list looks fairly extensive when I read the email confirmation, the idea was to try a good variety of things that we would eat to get a better idea of what works here. I also don’t have to plant all the seeds from every packet I’ve bought so I could keep some for next year – I doubt that will happen though!

This years efforts should give a better guide for future years than my limited efforts during the last half of 2013 so that I don’t waste time on crops that simply don’t suit the site, environment or soil conditions.

The vegetable seeds ordered, in no particular order:

  • Dwarf French Bean Tendergreen
  • Beetroot Boltardy
  • Leek Giant Winter
  • Pea Purple Podded
  • Swede Marian
  • Sweetcorn Sweet Nugget F1
  • Carrot Nantes
  • Lettuce Cos Little Gem
  • Courgette Early Gem F1
  • Winter Squash – Waltham Butternut
  • Cabbage January King
  • Parsnip Countess F1
  • Cabbage Red Drumhead

Plus there were also a few herbs as well for variety:

  • Chamomile
  • Chives
  • French Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Greek Oregano

Hopefully with a bit of careful planning and a little succession sowing I can try out some of everything I’ve ordered this year. There might be a slight space problem (as usual) but with 4 new raised beds already and one more that could still be built I think everything might work out okay.

My next job is working out what will be planted where and when…