Rain + Pig = mud

On Friday morning we awoke to find a couple of inches of snow had fallen and settled too which was a slight surprise. It wasn’t quite cold enough for it to stay though and it rained occasionally for most of the day so everything turned first to mush then fairly quickly into mud

For most of the livestock this was not a problem, the cows obviously wanted extra hay delivered but that’s not a problem. They are really placid these days and always happy to see me arrive with a fresh bale

Their big moment is coming next weekend when we have our 4 yearly TB test booked with vet visits on Friday and Monday. I suppose there’s always a chance they might have it but we’re in such a low risk area that it’s very unlikely. I’ll still keep fingers crossed though…

We had more pressing activities to handle this weekend. In recent weeks, Esther has been re-enacting some examples of 1914-1918 trench warfare in her pen and the excess of water soon had a predictable result.

Top of the list of jobs for Saturday was to prepare her a new pen and get her moved into something more pleasant. She doesn’t usually have any particularly special requests, just a room with a view and plenty of fresh bedding which I think we managed fairly well

A scenic view across the East Allen valley

Once she made the move into the new pen she seemed happy enough and was soon testing out the house herself!

Esther loves her clean, dry house

Summary of hay making 2019

At first I wasn’t sure that we’d made the right choice when I saw our neighbours had cut and baled their hay meadows early in July. However we wanted to wait a little longer so that the wild flowers could properly set seed before it was cut.

There were a few occasions when I wished we’d cut earlier and I’m still not completely used to the tense times around some of the activities on a smallholding. I’m sure it’ll eventually become second nature but even now after 6 years they can be nerve-wracking times.

In the end, our neighbour came to cut our little (4 acre) meadow on Tues 23 July with the weather forecast looking vaguely suitable to my untrained eye. I don’t usually take the forecasts too seriously as it changes regularly but it’s the best indicator I’ve got for what may be coming.

No going back once the cutting starts

Unfortunately 2 days later there were some overnight thunder showers which set everything back a bit. A real shame because it looked like the grass was drying out nicely up until that point.

Still, when that happens there isn’t much you can do other than wait for a long enough period of decent weather. So we waited…. and waited…. but after a week or so it became clear that we’d never get the grass dry enough for small square bales as we’d originally wanted.

Finally we had a couple of fairly fine, breezy days predicted and made the decision to get the whole lot baled and wrapped as big round bales. So it was that on Sat 3 August the guys with all the right equipment got to work

Baled and wrapped

It was 11 days from when the grass was first cut before the crop was finally baled but very reassuring to know that it was finally protected. Since that point we’ve not even had a dry enough spell for all the bales to be moved round to their storage point though.

The bales will get moved in the end but it’s better not to be running big heavy tractors around over our water logged ground at the moment. Not that they are likely to get stuck, just that they’d leave too much mess if they tried

I know that some other smallholders didn’t manage to get hay made in time and it looks like August is due to be a bit of a washout. I’m currently predicting that this may even be the wettest August for some time.

A stormy 24 hours

As luck would have it, a windy hill-top is a better bet than many other places when some stormy weather comes through. There has been some dramatic news coverage on the TV and the local newspaper website from places further to the west of us which puts everything into perspective.

It turns out that I’ve drawn the short straw when it comes to looking after the livestock though, whatever the weather. However it’s all a matter of wearing the right clothing to suit the conditions and I’d worry about them if I didn’t check so I really don’t mind. Many others have much bigger things to worry about right now with flooding so I remind myself to be grateful that I just have to deal with some wind, rain and mud.

The heavy rain over the last 24 hours or so means that the field drainage has being tested a little beyond its limits but in the grand scheme of things I think we’re getting off very lightly. Yesterday the water was coming on to our land faster that the drains could take it away but the balance is shifting this morning and the water levels are slowly falling again now.

Field drainage overwhelmed
Field drainage overwhelmed

Surprisingly enough given that the wind was supposedly gusting at 70mph or more yesterday, there has been relatively little damage on our little patch. The majority of the problems have been a range of small(ish) branches blown down and in places these have inflicted very minor damage to some permanent fences.

Minor fencing damage
Minor fencing damage

Even the fairly new electric fencing I put has been a bit battered but it was easily fixed this morning and the pigs have already learned to be wary of it so they didn’t notice that a section was completely out of action overnight.

Planning ahead makes all the difference though and, having moved the cows into the most sheltered field in advance of the bad weather, there was no danger to anyone when a 50-60ft tree came down in another field and took out a small section of the dry stone wall.

I just need to get the chainsaw sharpened and enjoy a quiet, rain-free day by making a start on the free firewood for next winter. Repairing the stone wall will have to be done before the cows can return to this field but I’ll take my time and try to do a good job!

Trees and chainsaws – part 2

After the good work on the first fallen tree discussed in the previous post, it was time to get working on the second tree. All through the Christmas period it was more a case of “out of sight, out of mind” so the work could be ignored – plus it was not the sort of weather for chainsaw work outdoors and we had a house full anyway!

Today was such a nice day though that there were no more excuses for not getting outside!

The experience gained when tackling the first tree definitely paid off with this one and it seemed that in no time at all the branches were cleared. The main cuts were easily completed to get the trunk to manageable pieces.

Cutting the trunk down to size
Cutting the trunk down to size

After the previous photo was taken, I moved on to tackle the remaining length of tree trunk which was hanging over the dry stone wall. This was tackled carefully as the trunk was resting on both the wall, an old metal gate and just one side branch.

Some sizing up of the situation was followed by a strategic cut in what I thought was a suitably place… however the laws of physics cannot be ignored in the same way that I had ignored the weight of the root ball.

Tree back upright again
Tree back upright again

It’s not a major problem and there was no risk of injury but it was a little surprising when it happened and another example of the caution needed when working on fallen trees with a chainsaw.

That seems a suitable point to clear up the field especially I could see the clouds looming as the weather closed in. All in all a job well done and luckily the rickety trailer we inherited from the previous owners was up to the job of moving this back to the barn.

A decent haul of firewood
A decent haul of firewood

Trees and chainsaws – part 1

A couple of trees came down in the stormy weather at the start of December and just before Christmas I eventually got around to making a start on them. This post is a belated look back at that work now that life is returning to something like normal.

I’m no tree expert but as far as I can tell one is a larch although the other tree is a bit of a mystery to me for the moment – the lack of leaves gives me little to go on. Some proper research will be needed eventually but for now it’s the hard work that needs to be done.

Luckily these two trees only fell across a ramshackle compost heap in the corner of a field and a dry stone wall. The chicken houses are fairly close but well clear of any possible damage from this or future falling trees.

We’ll also need to do some minor repairs to the wall once the trees have been cleared but more importantly I need access to the compost heap when cleaning out the chicken houses!

Side branches mostly cleared
Side branches mostly cleared


After much effort and careful use of the shiny new chainsaw, the first tree was cleared back to the dry stone wall. A very gratifying amount of progress in a brief spell of dry weather but in the end rain stopped play.

Cleared up to the wall
Cleared up to the wall

At first glance, it looks like some good progress was being made but on closer inspection it’s clear that much more of the tree is still there on the other side of the wall!

Not finished yet
Not finished yet

First job is to clear the field and compost area while getting the wood into usable sized logs stored somewhere dry. Eventually a log splitter will be needed but hopefully we can borrow one from someone locally for our first attempt!

Read the second part for more…

Weather watching

According to the BBC Weather page for our area this morning, it looks like we may be getting the first sub-zero temperatures at night this coming weekend! We’ve particularly enjoyed watching the onset of autumn with the associated array of colours but we can’t ignore this sign that winter is coming.

First frost perhaps?
First frost perhaps?

Even after 5 months, we still find ourselves caught up in the excitement of finally completing the purchase and move to our new property. I’m sure this will fade with time but I’d like to remember the feeling for as long as possible so that we appreciate our good fortune (and hard work).

I’m still making a conscious effort to update the blog or keep taking notes for future reference though because, with so many new experiences in such a short space of time, there is no way I will be able to remember everything from one year to the next!

We’ve already sorted out the most important winter preparations – coal delivered, wood delivered and stacked, oil tank filled etc. – but even these fairly basic tasks were all new to us. We’re only used to the mains gas supply that we had in our previous, suburban house with no need to ensure that we have enough supplies in stock. One remaining task is to ensure that the spring water supply is properly protected to prevent it freezing if we get a really cold spell.

There are still so many first time experiences to come and a great many unknowns ahead of us but that is all part of the adventure. One thing is almost certain though – I’m sure we will find ourselves regretting the recent enthusiasm for the coming winter by the time the cold North Pennine weather really sets in.


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…

Weather woes… again!

After the noticeable improvement in the weather over recent days/weeks I had thought and hoped that we had finally made it to summer but it appears that I was wrong.

Yesterday (Sunday) we had yet another torrential downpour which led to more temporary flooding at the bottom end of the garden. This was not as extensive as on the previous occasion in July but it still meant that we had to venture out in it to relocate the chicken house/run.

Of course I should be grateful that it was just a minor garden problem and did not affect our house. It pays to  keep things in proportion  as it was apparently quite a bit  worse for some people according to the BBC

Just in case I thought it was a one-off for yesterday only, while sitting here at work today about 6-7 miles from home I have heard more thunder and lightning plus there has been news of various temporary road/rail closures in the general area. I guess the journey home may not be a smooth as normal!

The Met Office has a helpful Weather Warnings page which pretty much sums the situation up very nicely. At the moment looks like this:

Another chaotic week or two…

Just lately things have been overtaken by the preparations for the recent wedding for No.2 daughter so the blog has suffered quite a bit. This situation was not helped by a crashed disk drive with lots of fairly important data which has now proved to be unrecoverable (hardware failure).

On top of all that we had some proper monsoon conditions here in the North East last Thursday (28 June) but I’m very conscious that some other people had a worse time with houses flooded and power outages.

Here is a picture of the garden at about the worst point last Thursday evening (the day before the wedding!)…image


And less than a week later here is roughly the same view now:image


Luckily the wedding was generally unaffected by all this chaos and everything went very smoothly on the day. Normal life can now be resumed!