March 2012

We needed new pigs I was missing them, the land is not the same without some pigs on it. They give a routine to the day.
We completed the last run of collecting things that required a day away from the homestead then said its time to get piggies.
First of I contacted Mary who provided my fine boys from last year but she had nothing until July, this would not do so I looked in Preloved and there I found the perfect piggies.
Gloucester Old Spot and Tamworth cross this should be a perfect combination; the flavour of Tamworth meat and the behaviour of the Gloucester Old Spot.
Pigs with ears that flop down have a gentle rambling character the sumo wrestlers of the porcine crew, my saddlebacks last year were ear down boys and so the GOS should be the same.
Prick eared pigs are fast and troublesome and not what you want. I have looked very hard at out new pigs to try and find the GOS line of hereditary but it is not there; they are Tamworths their ears stick up so much they actually curl backwards.
We collected three little piggies all girls this time so we can keep them for longer, one of the girls appears to have a willy but we try to ignore that. These pigs run very very fast also with three of the little dears they can turn and separate before charging at your ankles. They have managed to get out twice so far. What happens is they jump, up and down and run round and round causing so much excitement the gate spontaneously opens upon which they run into the strawberries, to get them back in I have to go into the middle of their field and jump up and down and run round and round and become so excited they charge in to see what I am doing. We have now rendered the gate completely closed and we are using the stile.
They do seem smaller than the saddlebacks but after just a few weeks they have already put on a lot of weight and are friendly little things. They do like to dig.
Prior to their arrival I filled the sty with straw, immediately the chickens decided to lay the eggs in the sty I wondered how long that would last. After two days of chicken chasing the pigs won and the chickens never enter the field its as if it had never existed. Why can I not have the same effect on the chickens when I chase them out of all the places they should not be?
We placed heavy mulch mat on the oat beds to kill of the grass when we lifted this we found there was still some greenery but mainly dock and yarrow, which are both beneficial soil improvers. After a little experimentation we decided to broadcast the seed then stomp over it. The black mulch mat has been replaced, as there appears to be a rather healthy field mouse population around. I am hoping that by covering the seeds for about two weeks they will germinate and become bedded in a little so when we lift the sheets the sunlight will promote vigorous growth thus leaving less exposed tasty mice morsels everywhere.
The large field under the tress remains unmulched apart from each individual tree. We did have various attempts at cutting this but it was mainly left and it has become very brown and dead looking. When you lift is it is bare earth beneath. I now have a little theory that as this grass is very thin rooted it needs the constant trimming of sheep or mowers to keep its strength. By allowing it to grow long it is exhausting itself. So I am going to leave a considerable patch alone and my hypotheses is that the grass will die back itself and other plants will come through. Already there is a big increase in foxgloves and yarrow. Also the neighbours bullace is suckering, these young trees have been moved and planted around the oat paddock perimeter as a further productive wind break
Mulch material is a continuous need but we are getting better at putting out the word and collecting good things. A friend chopped down a tree and we got first refusal on the chippings which were rather marvellous we were also able to hold the chipped bark down with large hulks of the timber, one lump of which has become a favourite chopping block outside.
Nowadays we are looking at materials more and more with an eye on how we can use them again and again. I know we were already professional scroungers for many years but the self-sufficiency drive gives an extra edge, it hones your skills. Although I did miss an opportunity when the paper shop was giving away free copies of the Daily Mail it would have made perfectly good paper plant pots and compost and I walked away empty handed which was just foolish.
At last the foundations begin to raise from the ground. For a while there it was looking like we had uncovered a roman road with just the large rock laid at the base of the trench we had dug. Now we have developed techniques and skills to put one stone on top of another and very fine it is too.
We have worked with lime before but this is the first time we have really concentrated on getting a good Romanesque quality of lime mortar.
Basically a Portland cement concrete mix used a rubbing in method whereas a lime mix is a creamed method. Most instructions want you to use an upright mixer, but we have a conventional machine so I found that the mix tends to ball or curdle as I think of it. I have adjusted the recipe and now I have a mix, which does not have quite the light, and fluffy airy mix of an upright system but gives a nice consistent crumb.
The main difference between cooking and cement mixing days is the warm up press-ups on cement mornings.
We did struggle for a while finding a good sand in France we had this perfect rough grainy river sand. Here a lot of it is fine sand with lumps in it that has mainly been used as a path base around the coffins.
All the plans have been finalised so there should be no reason to stop the final measurements taking place during April

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Febuary 2012

Timber We bought some constructional timber from Cut my own Throat Scouser. He was advertising on ebay however he would only accept cash so we had to get a roll of cash and turn up at his yard. He had ripped out the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool prior to its restoration. There had been an archaeological survey before the rip out which had said there was nothing of national importance. When they started to take it down some of the beams were discovered to be older than expected so work was stopped whilst more investigations were made. The timber is probably from the local shipyards. Dibbler told us that we were buying the mast of the Mary Celeste. I will try and get results of the dating, as it would be nice to find the provenance. There are makers marks carved into the side and they are big baulks of timber. We now have to fathom out how to move them and cut them to size they are destined to be the purlings. Along with this we also collected a huge pile of planking from a Victorian terraces, which cleans up beautifully. I have also spotted 2 Iroko school lab tops that I want as a kitchen worktop with graffiti.

The structural engineers report is through so we have the go ahead to start building. It is wrong in many many places but as long as we did not do it ourselves that’s all that seems to matter we have bits of inaccurate paper so progression has been made. The final plan is beautiful, I am faffing over ventilation plans now

Slate Late last year we managed to buy some local slate, this will have come from the Penrhyn quarry, at 50p a slate it’s a bargain. We should have enough to cover the whole roof, if not we will only need a few more and hopefully there is enough available that we wont have to buy new. We had to collect it from a field that housed Polly the very friendly horse who climbed into the trailer with the slate several times, she liked trailers.
Next we started to learn about ridge tiles and what a subject it is. We had simply assumed that as we had black slate tiles we would have simple black ridge tiles- but no this was looking unlikely for a while. Contrasting terracotta with black tiles is common, and then having whirls and poncey extras from one end of the roof to the other seem to be the norm. A local builder, rather predictably, said we would have to buy new ones if we wanted something as avant garde as plain black tiles but after about 48 hours search we found what we wanted. A chap had taken down tiles from the camp site barn at Church bay and we collected these; they have a roll top so are a little swanky but I can live with that. This Brummie chap was having a bit of a clear out so as the professional scroungers had turned up he found a considerable area suddenly became clear of all building materials.
The best find was some chimney liners that I have put two slates and a stone on top and     used as a rhubarb forcer and lots of little rhubarb buds have shot up, apparently you can hear them grow but so far mine are quiet.
Pond Now the pond started getting into difficulties way back in June last year. Namely it started going down, I thought it was leaking. But all and sundry around me scoffed at such stupidity on my part. Going on about and the dryness of the season with me mumbling about June in the south of France and really it was not dry here. I was wrong it was evaporation it was the local water table I had to leave it alone so I did until I got fed up of it. I scored some fluorescent drain detector dye and chucked some in. Within an hour it had started entering the ditch so I donned my waders and clambered in finally tracing the water flow. The main difficulty was avoiding causing damage to the frogs and newts that were squirting eggs out hither and thither but these all seemed to remain intact. I found a land drain that must have become blocked over the years but had now cleared and was emptying the pond. We managed to block it quickly and then dug it out more thoroughly now the pond is filling well, it is now about 10cm from its final height but rain in the night brings it up another 2cm a time so we should be full and flourishing in another week
The strawberries have grown in fruitfulness and meandered around the forest garden floor. This needs to be encouraged so I have managed to get many more plants from neighbours along with raspberries. I have collected seeds from the birds foot trefoil which I will plant up later and this lot should cover all the mulched out land. Keeping the couch grass back is difficult but I have a cunning plan to scatter yellow rattle around the perimeter, which is parasitic to grasses and should see that off. Chives are coming through and catkins are on the Alders so spring is srunging abound
Along with our scrounging we have some dragon willow cuttings, which we have spread as a tunnel completing the windbreak rooms. The plan is that this will act as a tunnel to get access to different areas of the land, provide a windbreak and help to dry out boggy areas. I am a bit concerned that we have planted them too close to each other so I will monitor them as they come up this spring. They are very beautiful an early leafing willow with a pink catkin
Chickens will only lay eggs in specific places; the nesting boxes have to be lower than the perch they need to be enclosed so the hen feels protected. Unless a huge pile of straw is piled up in the corner of the hen house and then they take it in turns to lay there, chickens are bad Here is a little movie about a pigs back legPig

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January 2012


The trees that went in 12 months ago have generally done really well. However, the willow did not live up to expectations. The thin willows for weaving the Dicks were successful and I have cropped these and put them to dry with the rush I cut in the summer. The bio fuel willow had not grown as well.The obvious difference being that the weaving willow was planted through mulch mat whereas the bio willow was mulched with straw, this proved insufficient and the grass did grow and compete with the willow. We decided we needed to mulch all the willow.
We also retrofitted mulch mat around the Alder windbreak, this is much more difficult to do and it is not finished yet, but I am over half way. The Alder has grown well but really any extra help has to be good. I read of an experiment where trees of 3 years were compared mulched and grown through grass, the mulched trees doubled in growth. The windbreak is so essential; from September until now we have probably lost over 50% potential work days due to wind. Fingers crossed this new blanket mulching out of grass will spur the trees on to greater growth.

I know it is worthwhile as a neighbour has 16 acres which was the same open pasture as we have and he has planted up a forest; you can wander around listening to gales but still able to function well at ground level.

There are still large areas of grass land around the fruit trees, here each tree has its own mat and the grass can grow in between. I am interested to see what will happen over time, the dominating couch grass is now not been kept in check by sheep, but it needs that strong cull regularly for its growth habit, as it is thin rooted I am guessing that a few years without being touched might see it die back. The ground has nettles, sorrel, yarrow, rayless mayweed and plantain so far showing and probably many more species of plant will come through so I think we will leave a portion untouched and see what happens.

More trees. Along the really strong windage edge we have planted another 2 lines of trees, one more line of Alder and a row of Hornbeam. We have bulked up the coppice with more Hazel and Chestnut and added some Maple and Downy Birch.
I have got some Schetzwan Pepper seeds stratifying in the fridge, just kitchen bought pepper from the Asian store in Bangor. I also fancy a Medlar. I picked some Medlar in Shavington in October and left them in a bowl until Christmas they really were truly bletted and they tasted gorgeous. So the plan is we have some damsons from BFG. These were suckers from the host tree of the Almonds at BFG, which have been put in around the pig pen, one could be cut back and a medlar grafted onto it. Another 2 apple trees have gone round the pig pen, the idea is they could be a self serve pudding bar for the pigs.
More willows have been dotted about the place creating a series of rooms around the land, each within its own protected enclosure and purpose. I had originally fancied the idea of an open space looking out from the house to the pond but that seems unrealistic. Just say NO to wind

As the windage on the veg patch was too great for delicate plants I have come up with a cunning plan. We can get broken pallets for free and we have made up high oblong boxes. They will serve two purposes, I can layer up straw and seaweed within each box so the planting is raised to avoid waterlogged roots, and create lots of separate protected growing areas. Unfortunately the raised beds do look rather like coffins on the poo piles still that cannot be helped. I am spreading gravel around the beds so eventually there will be very easy to use glamorous coffins on the poo piles

I am generally getting all the growing areas more organised. The polytunnel has been separated into small walkways with support nets fastened up and soaker hose running under the nets.
The forest garden has some of the best plantings with very healthy growth but I did not put enough new plants into the mulched out areas so grass was able to get back in. I am now layering up more cardboard but at the same time I am creating growing squares with more distinguished areas of plants. All in all it’s just doing what all the gardening books say; keep it simple, organised and tidy. I have also noticed how my winter seedling lettuce are very organised I have started with 3 seeds to a pot and thinned to 1 seed and these are now healthy little plants ready to go out and will be edible in the early spring. So my gardening habits are improving which is always a good way to go.

We stopped getting Asda delivery in July and we have been relying on our own supplies of food since then and it has gone really well. I can see how we are eating more and more traditional British food with pork bones and dried peas or slow cooked root veg. Not forgetting, as if I could, porridge every day.
What I am enjoying is how pickles and jams are being used as food rather than fancy jars in the cupboard that look nice but you never finish. I have just made a big batch of marmalade and I know I will eat it all probably on porridge as I have nearly finished all the sloe and crab apple jelly.
I do need to buy sugar for preserving and at the moment it’s really expensive; something to do with high fuel prices pushing up the marketable value of ethanol so inflating the price of sugar.
Birch and maple trees have been planted and I am looking to bees this spring. Sprouting broccoli is looking nearly ready to sprout, Greens are still doing well in the polytunnel. I do not know if we will get through to May/June but we are doing well. I am relying on supermarkets for oil and dairy products I need to seriously think about goats or at the very least buying milk from a local supplier and making my own butter.
The trench around the hemp extension side of the house is complete and we have started the foundations this is slow but steady you can only move so much rock in a day. Still bemused by the Egyptians, they just dragged stuff about, so there was a lot of them and it was over sand? So not many options were available but really why just why?
We have had the timber frame design drawn and approved. We are nearly ready to start the frame work although I doubt anything will be ready to begin before April. I do not have time for the building with all the land wanting fun attention as well as  chickens love.
Last week we climbed the local mountain

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November 2011


Play has been delayed due to international travel. Nieces had to go to Honeydukes in the wonderful world of Harry Potter, Orland, Florida. Boats in France sold and all such like adventures were had. We have also survived hurricane season; just
In the beginning we are trying to be self sufficient and at the same time using farming techniques that are in the main quite new. It’s all about maximum yield in the minimum space with an emphasis on polyculture and perennials, fruit and nut trees if you will.
To this end the planting has centred on a wind break, fruit  trees a veg patch and polytunnel. Also areas of trees planted for fuel and not forgetting the animals.
This leaves a gap in cereals hence the oat bed. To try and grow cereals does seem to be a much more serious farming concern and yet cereal growing predates all modern farming equipment so how hard can it be? Cast your minds back to spring and you can see pictures of the oats seeds being planted with a 1936 seed drill. This was into soil that had been mulched with wheat and barley straw. Once the seeds were in we left this patch to itself where it flourished growing rather wonderful rows of waving heads of oats. The method of harvest we employed was pulling our hands up the sheaf pulling off the seeds heads and dropping them into a bag so not particularly sophisticated but effective. The seeds needed more drying so we lay them on sheets and topped it with netting to air dry for a few more days. The netting was a huge row of tutu net from a car boot that has proved invaluable. We also have some big sealable plastic storage barrels which used to hold 80% alcohol for making alcopops which after several months of airing were smell free. So oats grown harvested and stored and a family sense of smug achievement permeated the homestead, now we just need to separate the seed from the surrounding chaff and porridge will be on the menu

There’s a lot to this threshing and winnowing game. The best method we have come up with so far is a big tray with a rubber mat in it; the sort of door mat with rows of sticky up toggles on it. You chuck a handful of seed heads on the mat and trample them quite harshly wearing crocs. Next winnowing, this can be challenging as we tend to be gale or dead calm here. Gales have resulted in the entire bowl of seeds landing somewhere in next doors field but if it goes well you can tip the seeds from one bowl to the other and the light and empty chaff blows away leaving a bowl of mainly cleaned seeds. The key word here is mainly about ¼ or even less of the heads are still in an outer sheaf of chaff so I sit and pick through them one by one. At the moment this generally takes one episode of Strictly come Dancing It takes Two and one episode of a junky Australian dance teen drama to pick through. Now I have cleaned grain it is run through our rather swanky mill which gives us roughly ground oat groats which I soak overnight in water and bubble the following morning served with a dollop of crab apple and sloe jelly. There are still bits of chaff in the final product and it has to be remembered these are naked oats that are far easier to process. The normal oat would need cracking and separating from the outer hard kernel.
There is something immensely satisfying about getting a bowl of porridge.

And also grow in the field is barley and wheat which we feed to the chickens. They like barley a lot

House building has began but still seems to take last place on the priorities list as the land and supporting activities take precedent I do not want to still be in the caravan next winter but at the same time it wont kill me if I am I want the house to be wonderful when its finished.

A small concern on the horizon is the building of a new road which could involve compulsory purchase of land but its best not to think too much about that at the moment we will know more in January.
Here is a little movie of our air dryed ham it is most exciting.air dryed ham

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August 11

Bumper Double Issue
There has been a delay in the summer issue of action and adventure however now all is back on track. Many nieces who thoroughly approved of our endeavours and fed the pigs had visited me.
We are bringing in crops. Starting with broad beans, and these did really well in the polytunnel. It’s a bit of a worry that they didn’t do better outside but the salt filled gales have blackened the leaves and the outdoor beans were a sorry site.
Generally the outdoor veg patch has not done too well. The wind is largely to blame although caterpillars, slugs, blight and deluges of rain have all added their own unique way of creating havoc in veg corner. Some plants have faired better mainly the flowers and I have a very colourful and bee filled landscape that is pleasant if not edible.
Inside the broad beans grew tall and healthy; we ate them for a number of weeks and then realised they needed preserving
I remembered seeing dried broad beans in North Africa with pigeons strutting on top of the barrels and I believe they were buried in the pyramids so we commenced our experiments with drying.
A couple of attempts were required and finally the dryer was built. Unfortunately for the broad beans they were the first crop and they became wizened, brown and small so that they fitted into a little glass jar and have been put to the back of a shelf. I have had a couple of experiments with rehydrated broad bean goo and so far they have proved more successful than you would think.After the trial period the solar dryer mark 2 was in full steam when the peas came in. After picking they were podded and hung in the greenhouse in a row of pillow cases gradually being put through the dryer until they were yellow and split, these taste great.The oats are probably the most scary; out they’re, grown up, proper crop. Totally out of our own experience range and defiantly a step towards self-sufficiency.
Within the lines of oats docks followed by yarrow grew through the mulch, which are both nutrient givers. We harvested by pulling up the seed heads in our hand and it took just 2 days to get them all in. Now they need drying further then crushing and winnowing. There is too much bulk for the dryer so they are being laid out on big sheets with bird netting on top and they dry quite quickly when there is some sun. Still learning about later procedures Ted is off on a train journey today with a book. We have realised that our sweet corn, which is also growing, very well can be left on the plant after ripening to dry and be used as polenta so I shall try that. We have had our first taste of porridge with blackberries for breakfast and it was good
The crew of three chicks are growing well we have 2 cocks and one hen the three Chiquita’s. They refused to settle in their own specially built run; They have not become part of the original flock they have their own routine and fave places and different snack and chat times thus ensuring that the two groups of chickens take up considerable portions of time. Somehow whilst this has come about various girls are becoming less reliable layers and so we are often only getting 3 eggs a day to what was 10 birds. This all changed however, when Mummy became broody again this time she hatched 5 chicks so now we say goodnight to 15 chickens. The new chicks are very cute and very small and go chirrup a lot.
Due to the parentage non of the chicks can become fully blown adults on the farmstead they must go into the pot eventually and I am growing sage and onions ready for that day.
Pig demise. It transpires it was bad planning to get boars in spring you have to kill them at 6 months or they become aggressive this appeared to be a good plan initially but with all the other food coming to fruition it might be better if this happened later next year.
So without further ado pig day came around.
We borrowed a trailer, which was hooked up the night before, and we created a route for the pigs to travel. For a few days previously I had practiced getting them to follow me through different routes and if I was holding the pignuts they would follow so we were quite confident that I had full control of the pigs. I had tipped most of breakfast in the trailer and we woke them up early so they were sleepy and hungry and presumably docile and yes they followed me out of the gate with no problems; now rather than been a bit nervous of the big wide world they had never seen before they put their chins up and said Oh this looks like fun and gambolled about the place paying no attention whatsoever of the breakfast bucket the carefully prepared route or even each other. I got Winston to the trailer buy which time Ted was stuck in the ditch with Puddlemuck, put Winston was too silly to get up the ramp. When we finally got Puddlemuck round to the trailer he went in fine so now we had to recapture Winston and heave him in. Finally tucking into their breakfast it was just the small matter of realising that I was stuck with the pigs between the exit and myself and I had to clamber over them to get out of the low trailer but finally we were off. The drive fazed the humans a lot but the pigs continued to enjoy themselves. The most difficult part was backing the trailer into the yard then we had to walk the pigs into the holding area which with no lure of breakfast or any experience on our part was challenging but we all got in front of the shockers happy and healthy and I can honestly say they experienced no stress during their short but full bellied lives
A week later we returned to collect the carcass and sausage stuffing began.
We had scoured ebay for all the relevant bits and were as ready as you can ever be really. We sawed of the chunks for the freezer and got them in. Then we have 2 back legs in salt for air-dried hams. Two front legs in brine for sliced ham, bellies in salt for bacon some back bacon in brine then a massive pile of sausages salami and chorizo. Basically following Hugh FW river cottage guidelines very carefully. All in all it was a very very steep learning curve.
Now the pantry is full and to finish of the bacons Ted built a state of art smoker that was magnificent in its performance and beauty Meanwhile the planning permission has chugged ponderously away and finally the passing place has been built. So we have started preparing the stonework and locating materials. There is a general air of apathy over the project these days, we are quite happy in the caravan despite it all being rather brown, and we are struggling to find the creative energy to move the building project on however, to help in this endeavour we have been most fortunate to welcome a new member of the family onto the team. A 1935 Wolsely just the essential item every self sufficient project needs

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June 2011

                                          FIRST FEASTS
We had a splendid fishing trip to Roscolyn. We walked along the rocky coastline until we found a spot we could scramble down to. Here Ted caught 3 Pollack, 2 Mackerel and 2 sand eels and very fine specimens they were. As it was June Ted set up a BBQ once we had abandoned that idea I made a fish stew entirely from products to hand. Pollack with new potatoes, broad beans, onion, garlic, lovage and oregano our first entirely free meal apart from the tap water, should have use rain water

The elder trees are in bloom and they are heavy with flowers so we used traditional techniques to collect enough flowers for syrup and champagne and popped a few heads in a gooseberry crumble. We have just finished drinking last year’s champagne and as an accompaniment to a huge crab it’s difficult to beat. It is nice to start things for the pantry shelves and hopefully more will arrive as the summer progresses
I have now made effective microbes for the Bokashi. I then produce fermented bran for layering with the waste I want to decompose. The fish debris stretched the system to its limits and waves a decomposing flesh smells would wash through the caravan. When this happened I would pile in more bran and a strong pickled onion smell takes over. Things have settled down after a couple of weeks but with the various elderflower projects on the go as well, it is often possible to have an advanced game of What’s that Smell? during any time of the day or night

A certain level of experimentation is necessary on the land to find out exactly what’s going to work for us here.
To this end Ted has his own urine processing plant.
This starts with a nice flask of tea taken to the tractor shed first thing in a morning. A bucket is strategically positioned for the collection of urine. This is then used to water willows at a ratio of 1 part urine to 8 parts water and after 2 months of trials there really is a remarkable difference in the rate of growth of the urine v unfed trees. As a result of this experiment we have began feeding the willow bed with fermented seaweed and comfrey solution to help it all along
It is just not possible to produce enough urine for everywhere, Ted also has to pee around the chicken house to keep away foxes and soon we will be looking at dying sheep’s wool so urine supply will be in high demand, you begin to understand why the Romans introduced urine tax.
The problem is supply and demand we cannot collect and store winter wee for summer use well not easily anyway
Things are growing well in all the different areas of the land, the polytunnel, veg beds greenhouse and forest garden. I have a lot of heritage seed plants coming along and it’s quite exciting not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. The achachucas in the polytunnel are particularly thrilling, they have tendrils that have grabbed the supporting strings and you can see them shake as they pull themselves upwards.
The wind has been devastating the outdoor veg patch so rather than wait several years for the edible hedge to grow we had decided to weave willow hurdles this winter from our first willow crop. However, the continual battering has led us to now make wind screens from collected pallets to create little calm microclimates.
The forest garden is doing especially well. A friend donated a huge pile of old bedding that has covered a large area and we topped these with the neighbours cut reed. Where the previous layers of sheets and straw have killed off the pasture the plantings that have been put in are starting to take shape. I have cut back the trees quite harshly to help them develop the root growth whilst the windbreak gets going. You can just see nut trees surrounded by comfrey to feed them and marigold and borage to attract beneficial insects and bees all beginning grow. We are cropping strawberries that are sending out tendrils in all directions so they should provide a good edible ground cover soon. Eventually everything will be green growth rather than dead reed and straw.

Bird update. The family of Great Tits that took up residence in the letterbox have all successfully hatched and moved on.
June’s long days are being felt by the chickens now they go to bed late so are not over eager at getting up in the morning. If the weather is less than clement they have been seen cuddled together on the roost with Llewellen stood below them bellowing his deepest, longest and richest doodle to no avail as they refuse rise.
The Chiquita’s are growing well. We have made them their own special home a detached house and run neighbouring the pig’s and full of food and shade and logs. They spend the days very happily here and then mummy calls. Mummy has had a day by herself at the spar deep dust bathing and worm eating but at the end of the day she gets the young out, it is rather a mystery how they get out as we have done everything in our power to keep them in the new coop but out they get. The family now like to have an evening stroll together visiting next doors cats. Eventually everybody goes to sleep together and we try to separate them again the following morning and show clearly who is in charge

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May 2011

                                                                  A Touch of Weather
The wind howled the rain took a horizontal path across the frozen landscape and so May shaped up to be pretty miserable, little grew, much damage was done to the trees and the pond appears to have leaked.
The pigs are a mighty fine pair of boys. I measure around the piggy just behind the front legs and the length from behind the ears to the base of the tail with my sewing tape. From this measurement I can calculate the weight. They are currently 40kg and increasing in weight at about 0.7 kg a day, which is an alarming amount, as they don’t seem to eat much. They a friendly souls and chat away to each other constantly and will watch me wander around the field and like a scratch behind the ear when I come close by.

At the end of last month we had popped eggs under a broody hen. The hen was quite cantankerous throughout the broody period. Ted would lift her out once a day to get some air and food at this she would make a big fuss and make sure everybody gathered around seeing how important she was. No other chicken would come too close as though very important she was very grumpy and would peck quite sharply.
After 21 days the eggs began to crack and we had 3 baby chicks, we were a little disappointed that we only got 3 but in reality it was enough to be going on with. Mum and kids been moved into there own special run where they have everything they need. Mum is very protective of the little ones and remained resolutely crabby. She is now getting more food herself and beginning to preen so hopefully she will cheer up soon. I mean she chose to hatch eggs.
The chicks are very very cute.
Llewellen and the girls have been off form for a few weeks but since separating the mum and chicks they are all getting pecked less so have bucked up rather. The best morning routine, if you’re a chicken, is to go into the tractor shed and have a happy half-hours hide and seek.
I have added an updated view of the tractor shed; I had thought that last month it had shown growth however it has growed and growed
A certain level of overcompensation might be occurring. Ted has struggled in boats for 20 years and now has enough space for the workshop of his dreams. There have been diagrams; there have been design consultation sessions. Finally it has come together with the simple process of answering a few questions.
How big should the workbench be? The answer is How big can it be? A simple design tool to is when you can see there is space for another shelf put one in, you cannot have too many shelves.
Some projects this month have been really successful.
The improved drain system from the static van is up and running and is working well. We have 3×200 litre containers connected together in a series 2 are closed facilitating anaerobic digestion and 1 is open for aerobic digestion with a filter of sand and gravel. This had all been worked out theoretically but now it’s working well, and is right posh
Coming out of this research was the discovery of Bokashi composting. This is very similar to the compost toilet. You put waste any waste fish heads, hair, pasta bits in a bucket and layer it up with bran treated with effective microbes. I have made the bran mix up and it is working. One of my favourite things is sieving the washing up bowl and tipping in the results. I am still investigating exactly what effective microbes are. Unfortunately they are marketed at the magic fairy dust end of the composting spectrum. With my bottle of EM I was sent a free Orgone; this is a lump of resin with bits of aluminium stuck in it. It is going to neutralise my negative irons apparently.
So searching for a more scientific background I have found it is rather like making yoghurt. Milk and also water drained off soaked rice are fermented together with molasses. So you make a vibrant zoo of bacteria that are particularly good at digesting anything really quickly, the lions of the bacterial world. I have the bokashi bucket a wormery and the compost toilet all-functioning now. Also water down the drain after filtering is saved for the greenhouse. It’s becoming not so much managing waste as peering gleefully at a plate of food and wondering what I am going to get back and how.
Some projects seem more doomed due to lack of active enthusiasm on Teds part. Processing seaweed to make my own sushi wrappers is not going very well. The vinegar bucket is an interesting colour and there is less eagerness than I would like for nettle projects. The mushroom logs remain just logs
The scythe has been wielded. In the single hour the month had, of less murky sky than the rest of the time, we tried it around the trees and that looks like it might work well. So should the time come round again when it is possible to stand upright a scything we shall go
My first clay project is nearly finished. I have used pebbles in a clay base to make a mosaic and I am very proud of the results.
A friend’s son made a little film of the chickens , mainly, as a project.

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April 2011

Fertile waters

When we dug out the trench for the polytunnel we found some sections of clay. This seemed a resource I should not miss so I investigated turning ground clay into the clay used in pottery, and with the help of you tube developed a plan.
The lumps of clay /earth were dried off in the greenhouse for several weeks. This was crushed and then sieved through increasingly fine mesh all the time removing stones and grass. The final fine powder is now ready for mixing again with water so that the fine light particles will float to the surface and the heavy clay particles sink. I am not totally sure what to do after this stage.
There is a well on the land so a well dressing is needed with a nice watery deity to ensure a continuing supply. I would also like to make a mosaic in the future as I was really inspired by the mosaics at the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
At the moment I am not sure how to colour the clay to get enough different colours for a mosaic. I don’t really want to get into glazing at this stage but maybe adding pigments would do the trick, these would need to go in now at the powder stage. I am near a copper mountain so that could provide some colour. I also need to look at firing and kiln building.

We now have pigs and a fine strong pair of boys they are too. They have settled into a routine of 9am feed and a 5 pm feed that does mean we can go out for the day if we need to. The chickens day is totally dictated by the sun, so they do not go to bed until very late just now, and yet the pigs have a stomach clock, so we have two different routines to get used to. Although the pigs are mainly black they have a white band around the shoulders this means they get sunburnt. One piggy is very calm and lies down in a nice way while I rub mud over him. The other piggy is very silly so I run round and round the field after him while he squeals and runs around in circles. He usually ends up with some sunburn, but at least I am not rubbing suntan cream on them. As the pigs can be seen from the road they have created interest in passes by and bartering is already being suggested.
One of the hens has just become broody we have collected together some eggs and popped them under her. Llewellen (Dad) is strutting about, looking handsome, and keeping an eye on her. She is taking up one of the nest boxes so now all the other girls, Llewellen and ourselves have been pecked quite badly, still baby chicks in about 3 weeks.
Ted is now turning the tractor shed into his own workshop, one end has been bricked up and vented creating a cool room for food storage the rest is starting to take shape as an Edwardian production unit

The greenhouse is an increasing hive of activity with plants getting stronger and being potted on. I have some shelves outside to strengthen up the plants. With the polytunnel now taking larger crops; currently full of broad beans. The planting area in the greenhouse is to be for smaller or fiddly crops, I have herbs like coriander, cumin, basil and caraway also the habereno chillies and ginger. The main chillies, peppers and tomatoes can go into the polytunnel when they are big enough. The seed drill was flourished again for a few rows of fodder peas to finish off the oat bed and I shall plant a final row of sunflowers along the neighbouring fence.

The planning permission had a condition that we built a passing place prior to building, this needed its own planning permission, we submitted drawings and all the necessary documentation- this was lost, we submitted it again one document at a time getting acknowledgement for each and every document as it arrived. Our assigned officer is now off sick, no one else has access to his work. All things considered it has become apparent that no building work is likely to happen this year if ever; so it has become increasingly important to make our current abode more comfortable mainly in the form of a bigger better compost toilet.

We have collected some big free water butts. These have been put together as water collectors from the tractor shed roof so now I have water for all the plants, and a pump from the well fills these tanks if there is low rainfall.
My swanky seaweed container takes water from the chicken shed roof which also has in it seaweed, ash from the fire and nettles. This can sit for 2 months from then on being topped up, I can draw off the liquid with a tap and about a 1 to 10 ratio will give me a high potassium feed.
The plants are all showing signs of potassium deficiency caused by the creeping buttercup so I am having a 2-pronged approach. Refuelling the soil with the magic mix and now as the buttercups are in flower I am popping up the flower with its stolon with the end of my dibber. The improved drainage of the land from the willows and alders along with some intensive weeding should get rid of them or at least get the numbers into manageable proportions and improve the soils nutrition. As I do not have much to think about when pulling up these little jiggers I have estimated that there are about 4000 so that will keep me busy for a day or two

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March 2011

Weaners in Weed

Having planted many trees a lot of time has been spent consolidating that work with support stakes, rabbit guards and labels.

As spring comes along the trees are beginning to bud and it is all very exciting. Keeping the mulch layer down is quite a repetitive task and I can see that soon we will also need to cut the surrounding grass.
The poo piles are fenced off and ready for planting. We have fenced of a paddock for pigs and the remaining area is being mulched with a mixture of straw, cardboard, cotton sheets and bark.It takes a lot of material but is beginning to take shape and feel a little woodland
Monthly workdays at Bangor Forest garden help keep us in touch with what the land will look like in years to come.

We decided to get pigs. It will be a few years before we are feeding ourselves entirely so this seems good use of the land in the meantime. Also they will grub out the grass and fertilise the soil.
Defa issued us with a holding number. Next we researched what breed of pig we wanted and Saddlebacks seem to combine good taste, hardy outdoor breed that are good on pasture. So far so good next to trace the pigs this is when it all started to go wrong I could not find any pigs anywhere. Feeling a little sulky I was planting new potatoes when a car pulled up and a lovely lady stopped to say hello and introduce herself and she had the contact of a saddleback breeder on the island so all was happy again and the weaners arrive soon.

PhempWe built an unconventional pigpen as a way of practicing the building techniques we want to use on the house. A stud frame in timber was shuttered to tamp in a hemp and lime mix, this has been lime rendered and we are awaiting results, we are going to put timber cladding round the outside to protect it from the worst of the elements and have a peek at it as time passes to see how it gets on
The oats arrived and needed to get into the ground in mid march. The straw had reduced the grass considerably but not fully so we used the 1930’s Planet Junior seed drill to plant the seeds, this was really hard graft but now they are in it should be a fairly maintenance free field until harvest in August. Some of the field is unplanted so we will put peas in there soon
The tractor shed is gradually turning into a workshop with pantry and poor weather sees Ted in here pottering.

Observing the land whilst living here has been very useful It would be ideal to live here a year without planting anything in close observation but unfortunately we are not in a position to do this. The speed and varying direction of the wind has caused us to increase the strength of the windbreak around the edge of the land and we have also planted more lines of willow to break up the wind further.
We decided to put in a polytunnel mainly to have a spot where plants could grow protected from the wind. It took a while to find the right spot for the tunnel and the best decision came when we decided to get a smaller tunnel than we originally intended, we went for a 14ft wide tunnel rather than 18ft this brought down the height and wind age, we went for closer hoop spacing and extra thick metal work all in all it should withstand the gales. It took a week to erect as the metal work had to be positioned with precision and the tunnel was cut into a slope.
Once the metal work was up the plastic was relatively easy to put on although it is rather taught; I have some broad beans in already and it is beginning to take shape
PwaterbuttsThe greenhouse is bursting with life March seedlings are all coming through and we have salad to eat now. In the poo piles are broad beans, rhubarb, potatoes, asparagus, parsnips and radish. The seedlings in the greenhouse will need to move out to the polytunnel, poo piles or forest floor to make way for the next sweep of seeding. CDs hanging are being used as scarecrows but it is difficult to find a way of keeping them swinging so that is another work in progress
Pond life flourishes a huge mass of frogspawn appeared but it did not look very healthy after frosts however there are a few tadpoles swimming around. Quite a healthy looking amount of plants are establishing naturally and some dragonfly maggots appear to be round the edges
Llewellen the Cockerel one evening called out an alarm and gathered the girls around him; they all lined up and looked across the ditch making worried noises; this alerted Ted to the opposite bank where there was a hedgehog setting out in a spring evening to find some slugs and what a welcome inclusion to our homestead he is.

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A story of finding an old barn with 2 acres of land in Anglesey Wales, buying it and building an eco house and forest garden. We are aiming to be as self-sufficient as possible and do all the work developing the site ourselves.

This is our diary

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