Life in the Countryside

Growing alliums

Last year for the first time we planted some onions and garlic for the first time. We were slightly late last year planting them and only ended up planting them in January/February time. We had chosen varieties that were winter planting so we could have the beds freed up to plant something else in them late summer. They still did well enough, but actually if they had gone in earlier we may have ended up with a larger crop. They were, however, really flavoursome and required very little maintenance so we found them worth growing.

So this year I was very organised and went to the local garden centre and made sure I got our garlic and onions sets in December and planted them nice and early. To plant garlic you need to first separate the bulbs into cloves. Ensure that the soil is weed free and then push them gently into the soil ensuring that the pointy bit is upwards and is just below the soil level. Each bulb should be spaced about 10-15cm apart and they need to be just covered over with soil. For onions the planting process is very similar but they need slightly more space between them (15-20cm). I tend to plant my crops in rows, but if you were planting in a tub they could go in a circle. Our crops have survived the snow we had a couple of weeks ago and are now looking remarkably healthy. Hopefully they will continue to thrive and we will end up with a onions and garlic slightly larger than last years variety.

This is how our allium bed is looking so far.

Alliums take very little looking after once they’re in. The main thing is to make sure that the bulb stays below the soil level (you can see from the photo above that I have a couple that need pushing back under a bit). It will be many months before they can be harvested, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t start flowering (it looks like a little bud at the top of the green stalks). If that happens then just pinch the bud off. Once they start looking ready to harvest the stalks will turn yellow and start falling over. This won’t be for a good few months yet so I’ll update on how to harvest closer to the time.

Life in the Countryside

So what’s been going on?

It has been a long, long time since I last wrote. Too long. Life living in a caravan whilst we did our home renovation took it’s toll, we made it through but it exhausted us. We finally moved in just before Christmas 2019. Then, in March 2020, the country went into lockdown. I don’t want to dwell on the pandemic and all the negatives it has brought about, there’s too much out there about that already. Instead let me talk about some of the positive developments in our little corner of the countryside.

We have lost some animals (the curse of the countryside fox) but have gained some more. We now have two different breeds of duck, Silver Appleyard and Cherry Valley. The Cherry Valley were re-homed in January from Fresh Start and after a couple of weeks have finally settled in. They still make lots of noise and run away when they see us coming but they also seem to realise that we provide the food and water. They have also started going to bed with the others without needing to be caught individually and put inside their house (not a fun thing to do in the cold muddy dark January evenings). We did breed our Silver Appleyards last Spring which enabled us to replace some of our lost flock and process some for the freezer. I think we have a total of seventeen ducks now (3 male, the rest female) and are looking forward to breeding some more in the Spring.

Bringing our new ducks home, bad choice of box!

During last summer we lost the last of our chickens to the fox so ended up starting from scratch with them again. Having been entranced by the Pekin Bantams we saw at Chatsworth in the summer (highly recommend a trip if you’re ever in that part of the world) we decided to acquire some Pekin Bantams (1 cockerel and 5 hens). Although the cockerel is very possessive over his ladies and tries to peck at us when we first approach, they are overall very friendly. Hopefully they’ll start laying soon and we can breed them some more friends in the Spring. At the same time we got some Cream Legbars (1 cockerel and 7 hens) chicks. Hopefully they will start laying at some point, although as a pure-breed they are more seasonal in their laying. The cockerel is also very possessive of his ladies but is great at making sure that they are all in bed before he goes up.

We still, of course, have the dog and she is still as mad as ever. She generally gets on well with the birds but occasionally wants them to play with her, they are less keen and it generally ends up with her running towards them and them scattering as quickly as they can (commonly referred to in our house as chicken bowling). Our toddler is no longer a toddler, she’s in her second year of primary school and has coped amazingly well with homeschooling and not being able to see her friends and family. My husband is still around, spending most of his days working from home in his office in the field. We’ve been together for over ten years now, scary how much has happened in these ten years. Well I’m going to go for now. It felt good to do some writing again, to focus on the positives and to look back as we start to look forward.

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Ducks · Life in the Countryside

Let’s get ducks

I’m not going to lie the past six months have been tough, really tough. Living in a caravan over winter has not been fun. I’ll do an update at some point on what’s been going on the past few months but first let me introduce you to our latest additions.

Yesterday, J and I were undertaking the rather arduous, and somewhat late, task of planting our seed potatoes in our newly dug bed when I began discussing where we might have our ducks and fruit cages. J has been desperate to get ducks for quite a while and we’d been putting it off as firstly, we’re quite busy and secondly we’ve struggled to locate a drake. Ultimately we plan to breed our ducks and use them for meat so we will need both males and females in the correct ratios. Anyway yesterday we decided to give our local poultry breeder a call to see what she had in stock and she had just hatched seven ducklings of one of a suitable breed. She was going to call us back once she had sexed them (not the easiest things to do with ducklings unless you are a professional). We decided to go and see them later that day and before we knew it she had called back to say there were two male and five female. It kind of seemed like fate to have almost perfect ratios so we just jumped in the car, with C of of course, and headed straight there. And yes, you’ve guessed it, we bought them all.

The breed is called Silver Appleyard and they are good layers, about 180 eggs a year each, and grow to a good size for meat. So we’ve been spending the past day getting to know them. Finding out what on earth to do with day old ducklings has involved lots of internet searching but we think we’ve got a handle on the basics. They’ll stay inside in their brooder (large box with a heat lamp) for about three weeks and then slowly be introduced to their new home outside. Which we don’t have yet. But for now it’s basically making sure that they have food and water and keep warm. One of our boys is weaker than the others and we’ve had to give him special attention by hand feeding him. We’ll update on him soon if he makes it through the night. The others had their first bath today. They loved it but we only kept them in for a short while as they don’t have the oil needed for waterproofing themselves. We’ll try to let them have a little swim every day if possible.

Life in the Countryside · renovation

The little quirks

Today I just thought I would share some of the little quirks which have been uncovered through the stripping back of the cottage. So as I’ve said before our cottage was built first and next door (which is semi-detached) was built on at a later date. As there were no original deeds for the houses we don’t know exactly when the properties were built and we don’t entirely know our cottage’s original layout, we do know though that the kitchen was a post war extension. Obviously when our cottage was built it was detached and as such had windows on all four outside walls. So when the cottage next door was built some of these windows had to be blocked up. So we have one downstairs and one upstairs blocked up window. When all the plaster has been hacked off they have been fully exposed. Unfortunately the downstairs one will have to be blocked up as the stairs will go right through it, but the upstairs one will be right at the top of the stairs and we are planning on making into a nice feature.

The downstairs window to nowhere

The upstairs window to nowhere

The other feature which I just love is our extra fireplace. In our lounge we have one fireplace which last winter we opened up and installed a log burner into. That still needs finishing when the work is completed but already is a lovely feature in the room. At the opposite end of the room there was a chimney breast which had been sealed up a long time ago. With the work beginning we have taken off the plaster and opened it up. In fact with the stripping out of the ceiling upstairs we can see how this chimney extends right up to the roof.

As lovely as this is we have decided to remove it and flatten the wall both down and upstairs. Downstairs it should give us better space to put a sofa in the room and upstairs the chimney breast is so curved that it is really hard to fit furniture around it. So as much as we are trying to keep some authentic features in it, we are trying to make practical decisions for our future home.

Life in the Countryside · renovation

Our new living room cabin

So we are now completely moved out of the house and are living between the caravan, my craft cabin and our new living room cabin. This will eventually become J’s home office once the work on the house is complete but for now we are using it as a kitchen/living room/dressing room/playroom. For now we refer to it as our living room. It’s a 10 by 12 foot simple wooden cabin with double doors and a pent roof. J will paint it and we will put down a floor similar to that in our cabin when we’ve moved out but for now it is bare wood and chipboard floor (though we do have a random square of cast off carpet from my father in law in the middle to help keep our toes warm).

On the bank holiday weekend we spent time moving some furniture into it. In it we currently have:

  • C’s chest of drawers which is filled with mainly J and my clothes as C’s clothes are mainly in the caravan.
  • Our television and DVD player on top of this.
  • A small white table from our kitchen which has our coffee machine and table top cooker on it.
  • Our fridge
  • C’s princess castle and dolls
  • C’s plastic table and chair set
  • Our pop-up wardrobe
  • Two armchairs
  • There’s also an electric radiator and some lamps, as the cabin does not have it’s own power supply and relies upon extension leads from the garage and sheds.
  • Now I’ve taken some photos of it but please don’t judge us by the mess as we’re still trying to find a home for everything. It’s quite cosy and provides us with a nice bit of extra space.
  • Craft · Life in the Countryside

    Sew your own wardrobe

    As you know I have a lovely little haven in my garden, my sewing studio. I really enjoy my sewing and am improving in skills with time. I have taken a few sewing classes locally with Sodbury Sewing School and have learnt some new skills. So I thought I would share some of my recent makes and favourite patterns.

    This is a pattern that I’d been looking at for a while, the Ogden Cami by True Bias. I love wearing little cami tops and although you can get them fairly cheaply in most shops in fairly plain colours, I fancied something a bit nicer. This cami pattern has been recommended by several people so I thought I would give it a go. I chose a mustard material from my local fabric shop and I’m really happy with the end result. I’ve since made the pattern in another fabric and intend to make lots more.

    This is my summer beach bag made from a free pattern in a magazine (though I can’t remember which one). I have previously made small matching beach bags for C and I which were fine to use if we were just wandering around a town but aren’t really big enough to carry the extensive beach equipment that our little family seem to require. This bag has a small pocket inside (useful for a phone and a purse) and a simple magnetic closure. The sides are lined with foam so it holds its shape well and the handles are reinforced with chord. It has served us well this holiday, large enough to hold everything we need for a day at the beach and yet still stylish enough if you end up shopping instead.

    This lovely button back top was made at one of my sewing classes. It is fully lined and taught me a lot of new skills. The pattern is individually designed to my measurements so it fits really well. Although it involved lots of steps I have since made another version in a white fabric with navy anchors on and it sewed up much quicker second time around. I’ve had several compliments on this one and will probably make another couple in the future.

    This dress is one that I made for my and J’s five year wedding anniversary. The pattern is called ‘Joni’ and it’s from the Tilly and the Buttons Stretch book. The fabric was so silky and was a nice challenge to sew, as was the pattern but I was really pleased with the end result. Not an everyday dress but certainly one to wear for special occasions.

    Life in the Countryside · renovation · The cottage

    Stripping out the house

    Well we can’t go back now. The builders first job has been to strip out our house completely. Bear in mind that we had already moved all our furniture etc out so it was looking pretty empty to begin with. Well even in a day it looks totally different. Carpets are gone, doors are gone, bits of walls are gone. We needed to start by stripping back to see if we were able to keep certain things namely the supporting timbers and floor boards. As we suspected they were all pretty rotten and need replacing. Some supporting beams seem to actually only just providing enough support its a miracle the cottage hasn’t collapsed before now. Walls that will no longer be needed have been removed upstairs and it’s looking a lot more open. In fact you can now see up to the roof from the ground floor in parts. The upstairs bathroom is gone. The airing cupboard is gone, the third bedroom is gone. There’s still more stripping out to do and I’ll do a proper round up of each room once that’s done but here is where we are at so far.

    Upstairs

    Downstairs

    Exciting isn’t it? I know with the stripping out you see big changes fast and that the rebuilding will be a lot slower, but I can’t help but love how we see so much change everyday. I promise not to bombard with constant cottage updates though!

    Life in the Countryside · The cottage

    So the house is empty

    We’ve spent the last few days/weeks/months slowly emptying our house and it finally clear ready for our builder to start. It has been quite a challenging process at times, actually a very challenging process but we finally have the house empty and ready for work to start this week. It just feels so bare and old and incredibly dirty. The first task for the builders is stripping back as much as possible so we can see the state of the timbers (not looking good) and get the steel ordered as required. So all the photos below are of the cottage in its current state – empty, dirty and falling to bits. Looking at it I can’t believe we were actually living in it. One of the first jobs the builder is planning on doing is stripping it back completely so hopefully this weekend I can post some photos of the cottage in an even more stripped back state!

    Upstairs

    Downstairs

    Lazy beds · Life in the Countryside · Vegetable growing

    Potatoes…what went right and what to change

    We have now harvested all of our Spring planted potatoes and so I thought I would do a quick review about what went well and what to change for next year. So this year we grew our potatoes in growbags as opposed to last year when we used lazy beds. We had five different varieties:

    • Red Duke of York: we grew these successfully last year and they were just as good this year. My only complaint was they weren’t as large as I would have hoped but still a good size. This is probably due to harvesting too early but I was just so keen to get some potatoes. We’ll probably still grow these again next year.
    • Cara: these were our most prolific cropper this year. A really good harvest of decent size potatoes which taste amazing. A definite one to do again next year.
    • Pentland Javelin: our most disappointing crop this year. A small harvest both in quantity and size. Whilst it could have been down to the weather I don’t think we’ll do these again next year.
    • Charlotte: a good solid harvest. Decent size potatoes with good taste these are always a favourite in our house. We’ll do these again next year.
    • Pink Fir Apple: our first time growing these but we had them at a fellow gardener’s house and they were delicious. They have given us a really good crop of nice sized potatoes. Perfect just boiled and topped with butter. I think we’ll try these again next year.
  • Overall a very good year potato-wise, we barely lost any to pests or damage which was a big improvement on last year. The individual potatoes weren’t as large as last year which could either be down to being in bags as opposed to the ground or due to the weather. Our Autumn sown potatoes are in bags so they can be moved inside to avoid the cold (more about that another time) but next year I’ll have to work out whether to go for the ground or bags. Does anyone else grow potatoes? How do you grow them?
  • Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Raised beds

    Just look how crazy the garden went when I was away…

    We recently came back from being away from the cottage for almost three weeks and I have to say that although I loved our holiday, I was really glad to be home. Our garden was watered whilst we were away but any gardener know that no one looks after your garden as well as you do. It was so lovely to see how the garden has come on whilst I was away, and even better to started tending to it.

    We had a courgette that had kept growing and growing, look how big it is compared to a normal sized one!

    So now I need to find a good way to use up a marrow.

    The plums weren’t quite right when we left for holiday and by the time we came back they had all ripened. We had lost some to insect activity and some had gone over but I managed to harvest a good amount.

    Because of how ripe they were, those that weren’t to be eaten straight away were halved, de-stoned, vacuum sealed and frozen. That way when I have some more time I can use them up.

    Some of our turnips and beetroot have also grown a bit ginormous. Hopefully they still taste alright.

    It also looks as though somebody has been exploring our asparagus bed. Hopefully whoever it was (C suspects Peter Rabbit) hasn’t done any damage to the roots.