Saturday, January 31, 2009

When Is Spring Going to Arrive?

We in the UK are notoriously obsessed by the weather. At this time of year though, I am more obsessed than usual, this being as a result of the fact that I don't particularly like the winter. Apart from the cold and dull weather, there is the short hours of daylight and the fact that everywhere just gets so muddy! There have been a few signs of Spring recently - I have seen some snowdrops out on a bank next a lane nearby, it is getting dark a little later and, most importantly, the hens are producing a few more eggs.

So I am looking forward to getting my vegetable production underway, but it is still too cold and damp to do much. Even the greenhouse is still too cold.

To make things more frustrating we have a period of cold weather, including snow, predicted for next week. Oh well, I know that in just a few weeks it will be warmer and drier and I will be frenetically trying to get everything sown/planted in good time!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why Keep Chickens?

While full self-sufficiency is not really an option for most of us, most of us can make some small changes to our lives. Keeping chickens is at least a start and is possible for many people, even if you have a small garden.

There has been a certain amount of discussion recently about the way in which commercially farmed poultry are raised. Raising your own chickens means that you at least know that they been properly looked after and that they are given some freedom. Some people keep chickens for both the eggs and for the table - we are vegetarian, so obviously we just use the eggs! You will never be short of eggs, and in fact in the Spring and Summer months you will probably have some extra that you could sell them to friends, neighbours and work colleagues to make a bit of extra money. People often comment on how much fresher our eggs are compared with supermarket eggs, and particularly how the yolks have a much darker orange colour to them.

Chickens are extremely easy to keep. They need housing and feeding of course, but beyond that, not much else. They will put themselves away in their house at night, so it is just a case of shutting them up to keep the foxes out, and then opening up again in the morning.

Look out for my series on keeping chickens over coming few weeks.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Save on Fuel Costs by Burning Wood

Our house, like many rural homes, uses oil for heating and cooking (there is no mains gas where we live) which can get rather expensive. Fortunately, we have a wood burning stove which heats the house well and saves us having to spend so much money on oil. We use a mixture of wood chopped from our garden, bits of pallets, offcuts and timber that we have bought. Burning wood is environmentally friendly as the carbon released by burning wood replaces that which was absorbed by the living tree - so the theory is they cancel each other out.

The wood with the best burning rates is ash, birch, blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel, hornbeam, maple, oak, rowan and sycamore.

Chestnut, elm, eucalyptus, fruitwoods, pine and willow all have medium burning rates, whilst alder, douglas fir, elder and poplar all have poor burning rates.

Wood will burn much better, will produce much less pollution and leave less deposits in your chimney if it is well seasoned. Seasoning can take between 3 months to 2 years depending on the wood concerned. The poor burners listed above are the ones which take 2 years.

You could grown your own wood to be self-sufficient. You will need to an acre of land though and for ash or hornbeam it will take about 5 years before you are able to start harvesting your wood!

I am hoping the weather will start to get a bit warmer now as we are running out of wood and I can't keep pace with chopping what we have in the garden!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Latest Additions to the Family

Here are the new additions to the family! They are our 10 year old son's Christmas present; he wanted some rats for ages, so we finally gave in. These three are a mother and two daughters (mum is on the right). Their names are (from left to right) Crystal, Pearl and Silver. They came from Lincolnshire Rat Rescue.

It seems strange that we are trying to control rodents outside (one of the unfortunate by products of keeping poultry), and yet introducing them inside. They make wonderful pets though as we have had them before. My son had all three up his sweatshirt tonight which he found hilarious.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Goodbye 2008.........Hello 2009!

At this time of year it seems to be traditional to look back on the year that has passed and to think about the year ahead. And, indeed, why should I be any different?!

Goodbye 2008........

This year has been a disaster in terms of growing vegetables and fruit. I managed a few potatoes, some courgettes (zucchinis) and that's about it. The apple trees did well as usual, but I did not do very well at harvesting our other fruit.

Our flock of chickens has shrunk a little - some lost to foxes and a couple to natural causes. Our egg production has continued to be OK.

I had hoped to be largely self-sufficient in terms of firewood this year, but unfortunately we ran out by the end of November. We still have plenty around the garden, but I have not been able to chop it fast enough to use.

Overall then, not the best year for our self-sufficiency efforts.

........Hello 2009!!

So what are my aims for the coming year? Well this is what I hope to achieve in terms of our self-sufficiency efforts:

  • Having a fully productive vegetable plot - needs to be ready for planting by March!
  • To make sure that I harvest effectively and make sure I freeze, pickle, make into jam, or otherwise preserve any vegetables and fruit that I produce.
  • Clear the plot that I have set aside for the herb gardenand start to plant out herbs with a view to have some ready for use this summer - I want to at least get in the perennial herbs such as rosemary and mint.
  • Start chopping wood ready for next winter in spring - that way we may almost be self-sufficient with firewood.
  • Start preparing the plot that I have put aside for growing plants for natural dyes for fabric.
  • I want to try my hand at soap making - I don't know why really, the idea just appeals to me!
  • Post more regularly to this blog - I have been a bit lax recently! I intend to post at least once a week.
Well that will do for now. I wish you all a prosperous 2009 and that you achieve all that you hope to over the coming year!