Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review Of Year 2 On Our Smallholding

As we are coming up to the anniversary of the move to our smallholding, it seems a good time to stand back a little and have a good look at what has been achieved in the last 12 months, the lessons learnt and to celebrate the passing of another four seasons.

During our first year here, I laid out the basic areas of the smallholding, a duck enclosure, annual vegetable garden, food forest, chicken fields and the wilderness area beside the piggeries.
Top, view as at November 2015. Below, view as at November 2016
Thus it went from fairly open and empty paddock to a working food production area. Our second year here has seen some drastic changes, most for the good, some just necessary. 

In early December DEFRA announced that all poultry were required to be kept under cover with immediate effect, so I spent a couple of days completing the conversion of the stables into the chicken condo and converting the open fronted outbuilding that I had planned to be my garden room, into the chicken palace. We bought and erected a large walk-in chicken run that we sited in the duck enclosure for their use while they had to be under cover and subsequently have used it for ducklings. We built covered walkways outside the two chicken buildings and over the year have made those walkways more permanent (in light of the likelihood of a repeat of the 'lockdown' during this winter's migratory movements of wild birds.

After the lockdown had ended, we built a pond in the duck enclosure and also acquired an old trampoline which is used to cover an area (in readiness for the predicted lockdown this year). The number of ducks has fluctuated throughout the year as ducklings have been raised and we also bought eight mature ducks, one drake and seven females which have proved successful breeders. As I type we have 9 adult ducks (7 of the eight, Mrs Warne and one young adult from our first hatch of ducklings from the eight) and there are also eleven ducklings that are a couple of months old which will provide us with food throughout the next few months.

The food forest has been expanded, I've planted 14 fruit trees, moved an apple tree from behind the greenhouse and planted several medium large fruit bushes that were given to us by new friends, just prior to their move from Newport in South Wales to Eday in the Orkney islands.
The Annual Vegetable Garden

The biggest change visually has been the creation of fencing around the annual vegetable garden. The few pallets that were around the front of it at the end of year one have been extended and this productive area is now fully enclosed except for two access points at the front and on the side next to the food forest. Compost bays and storage areas have been created along left hand side of the vegetable garden fence and at the front (the side nearest to the house) I have built a raised perennial border having failed miserably at keeping on top of the pernicious weeds in the bed that was created in the first year. I have resigned myself to accepting that this old perennial border needs a total overhaul, which I plan to do during the winter months. 

After I had created the fence around the vegetable garden, we were offered some longer pallets, these are eight feet long by three feet high and look more like fencing than the shorter pallets, so, bit by bit, I have started to replace the shorter pallets, as and when I have the energy to haul the long pallets into place. The older pallets will not go to waste, I am using them to create free standing compost bins and what are too old or damaged to use are being cut down and used as kindling for the wood burners.

This year I've grown several crops that I hadn't tried before, potatoes under a cover, sweetcorn, Greek gigantes beans - all of which have been a success to a greater or lesser degree. I plan to grow potatoes under cover again in 2018, but to make a cover from wood chippings and straw rather than a plastic sheet. I will grow sweetcorn again, but instead of growing it for its colourful appearance (as I did this year) I have selected seed of varieties that are reputed to have excellent flavour. The gigantes beans taste superb and next year I plan to grow a full bed of them rather than half a bed.

Our runner beans grew very well this year and I harvest well over 100lbs of beans, many of them were frozen for eating throughout the winter and spring and others were swapped with local residents for crops that I was unsuccessful with (courgettes) or just don't have enough in the garden yet (apples).

During the summer and early autumn I selected a seven week period and undertook to record everything that I had harvested and in just 50 days, harvested and stored over 800lbs of food. Next year I will continue to record the harvest, but perhaps won't put the pressure of having to harvest and process X amount of food each day.

We raised some meat birds this year, it was an experiment to see whether we preferred the fast grown meat of Ross or Cobb birds to the slower maturing more traditional meat birds. I think the jury is still out over the result of that experiment. Certainly we both prefer the taste of Welsummer, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Australorp and Jersey Giant birds, but there is an appeal to '8 weeks until table ready' birds. There is little difference in terms of cost as the Ross/Cobb birds eat such vast quantities of food in their short lives, but which route we go down next year is still undecided.

During spring we had four very successful hatches of chicks and in the space of four months had raised almost 80 chicks, partly to increase our flock size and partly to provide us with plenty of meat birds. I figured that we would need at least one bird per week throughout the year (whether chicken or duck), that we'd want a few extras and some to give to friends or exchange for different food.

We have ended the year with eleven Jersey Giants, five Brahmas and four miscellaneous birds in Big White's field and around forty-three birds in the chicken condo area (Elvis' flock). I intend to reduce numbers still further over the coming months until we have around thirty birds in total to provide us with eggs for eating, selling and for hatching chicks next year.

One of the lessons learnt this year is that the birds that hatched in January came into lay, but then went into moult in autumn and have stopped laying, whereas the birds that hatched in February haven't moulted but did come into lay and have continued to lay as the daylight hours have reduced. Perhaps that is just coincidence, but it's certainly something to be aware of for next year.
View of the field November 2017

You can see (almost) daily updates of life on our smallholding on my YouTube channel here.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Winter Sunshine On The Homestead

A gentle reflection, in the early morning, of how fortunate we are. As always, if you cannot view the video on your device, you can watch it on YouTube here.