Monday, 2 January 2017

Aspirations for 2017

 Happy New Year!

I'm not going to do a look back over 2016, I feel as though I've documented it enough already and reviewed our first year on the smallholding during November and to me the best part of the new year is the possibilities that lie ahead.

So, for 2017 my hopes include

To learn more
I'd like to take more courses, read more and research more. By continuing to learn I'd like to not only increase my knowledge, but to keep my brain engaged and alert. I've been looking at a variety of courses including a Permaculture Design Certificate, a horticulture certificate and practical skills like charcuterie, cheesemaking and woodworking.

To start driving again
I haven't driven a car on the road since September 2015 and while Mr J is more than happy to drive me anywhere I want to go, not having the independence is irritating. I stopped driving when I became too ill to be safe on the road, after all it's no good to be behind the wheel when you keep falling asleep, your ankles are too swollen to be able to move your feet properly and your legs jerk uncontrollably. The decision to stop driving was entirely my own, I just wanted to keep myself safe and respect the safety of others on the road. Both the jerking and falling asleep are now as good as gone and the swelling has reduced far enough to have almost full movement in my feet, so it seems to make sense to start getting myself back on the road.

To raise our own ducks

Early last year we bought Frederick and Mrs Warne, the ducks that we weren't going to name. We hatched two ducklings from eggs laid by Mrs Warne and we also hatched a further five ducklings from eggs brought via eBay. We enjoyed raising the ducklings, we were surprised by how endearing they are, but when the run up to Christmas arrived we said goodbye to five of the ducks. Frederick, one of the two and three of the five were despatched. This leaves us with one of Frederick's sons (whom I've imaginatively named Frederickson), Mrs Warne and two girls from the five as our breeding flock for 2017. Mrs Warne has continued to lay eggs throughout the winter, she had a short pause during early autumn and is now back to laying around 5 eggs a week. The two younger girls haven't started laying yet, but I don't think it will be too long before they do and Frederickson has started practising treading on the girls, although nothing is actually happening as yet other than a lot of noisy quacking and some fairly inelegant balancing tricks.

To increase the flocks of Australorps and White Jersey Giant chickens
We have seven white Jersey Giant chickens of varying ages. Little White has been renamed Big White as he is huge and he shares a house and pen with three females, one of which is at point of lay and two are a month or more away from laying. A younger male now lives with the 'spare' cockerels, young males destined for the table that I have separated from the flocks to prevent fighting that could lead to injury. The two youngest Jersey Giants were hatched late in the year and are now eight weeks old. Normally at eight weeks I would integrate the chicks into life with the older birds, but because of the lockdown, the chicks would have no escape from (possibly unwelcome) attention of bored birds and I will wait a while longer before the integration process.

There are six Australorps, two females, four males. Two of the males are separated and now live with the other young cockerels. The older female (hatched in late June) is just coming into lay, at least I think she is and the younger female is about a month behind her. I'd very much like to hatch several more Australorp chicks, the boys make good meat birds and they are all very affectionate and more girls would give us a constant supply of Australorp eggs. What I can't decide is whether to wait and hatch eggs from the birds that we have or whether to find some eggs from another breeder to widen the gene pool of our flock (we currently have birds from two different lines).

To complete the raised beds in the annual vegetable garden

In 2016 I created seventeen raised beds and there are still five more to be created to fill the annual vegetable garden. Together with the pumpkin patch and food forest, we should then have enough space to grow just about all our vegetables and herbs for the year. This level of self-efficiency would be very pleasing.

To plant more trees
I still have masses of trees waiting to be planted. There are approximately two hundred hedging trees and shrubs for the west perimeter of the smallholding and around 12 larger trees waiting for their permanent positions. I planted fourteen fruit trees in the late autumn and have selected some other types of tree that I'd like to add to our food forest to give us an even wider choice of fruit in years to come.

To expand the Food Forest
The main part of the food forest is now laid out, small trees and fruit shrubs have been put in place, perennial plants and ground cover plants are planted and should romp away this year. I have decided that I would like to extend the food forest into the chicken fields, so that although there would be fewer fruit bushes, there will be some fruit trees, herbs, flowers (for the bees from next door's hives) and berry canes will be able to scramble up and along the netting that divides the chicken fields. The herbs will provide an additional source of food for the chickens, the trees will provide some shade and the windfalls will give them rich pickings and no doubt the chickens will share the berry crops with us. The chickens' manure will continue to add fertility to the soil and their pecking and feeding activities will help to reduce the pest population.

To install a large duck pond
View to behind the piggeries
We have identified two areas that would be ideal for a large pond. One is behind the piggeries which would be a good use of the space and the other is within the existing duck enclosure (an area about 150 feet by forty feet, so plenty of room for a decent size pond). This second site is the one that I'd like to complete this year. By digging out a large pond, we can use the soil from the excavation to create a mound for a swale. The pond would be dug out of the highest point of our land (which is not quite, but almost flat) and the mound would encourage rain water to move more slowly through and across the ground, it would also give me a raised area to plant another hedge of currants, berries and nuts together with wild roses for rose hips. This hedge would then act as a wind break and reduce the damaging impact of the winds that whistle across the whole smallholding. This particular hedge would help to protect the vegetable garden a little more.

To offer volunteering opportunities
We would like to offer a chance for people to come and experience life on a smallholding built on organic principles. For this to happen we will need to find a suitable caravan for volunteers to stay in and I think installing a composting loo on site would be a smart move too (some comforts are important to establish early on!). In exchange for their volunteering effort, we will provide accommodation and meals and share what we've learnt. We aren't by any stretch of the imagination, experts in any of this, but we do have some experience, our trial and error has taught us a huge amount in a short time and I'd be delighted to share some of that experience with other like-minded folks.

I have no doubt that as the year goes on we will find other projects and activities that we want to tackle. The back of the piggeries needs work if it is not to become a tangled mess of brambles and weeds, the piggery buildings need attention to prevent them from rusting and collapsing, sections of the stable roof need mending and gutters need replacing... the list goes on and on.

Right now I need to go and complete the project that I've been working on for a couple of weeks, but as it's jolly cold outside first of all, I will make a cuppa!
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