We’re full swing into a bumper harvest season, with LOTS of apples to process, jams & chutneys to make and veg to store, not to mention some pretty big DIY projects in the house, so we don’t have much time for updates. So here are some highlights of the summer just passed (and there’s a new baby album in the photo gallery for those who are interested). Happy autumn to you all!
Sorry that it has been so long since our last update. We thought winter would be the quiet season where we would get more time to do things like update the blog, but it was busier than expected. This blog has some of the highlights. The videos are especially for our three year old nephew Matty, so they may not interest everyone!
At the beginning of winter we used the last of our apples to make our first batch of completely home grown, home pressed and home brewed organic cider with help from Frankie and Luke, which went late into the night and had to be finished under the light of head-torches. Thanks guys! The brew was ready just in time for Christmas. It is fairly dry, very quaffable and packs quite an alcoholic punch.
It was a mild winter, which was lucky as it was our first experience of trying to heat our house and water with wood alone. We haven’t yet managed to build our log store so all our wood is in a huge pile in the shed that needs rebuilding, with the most seasoned stuff being at the bottom of the pile, making it difficult to get to. That combined with our wood not really being seasoned enough as it needs another summer to dry as well as all the chopping and chainsawing of logs involved, means that it has been a lot of work keeping ourselves warm. We learnt that burning green wood means it is difficult to get the range cooker up to temperature and has also clogged it with soot much quicker so we have already had to clean it twice. It is all totally worth it, but we’re looking forward to next year when we have seasoned wood and an organised log store! Here is are a short video of Jules chopping a log for Matty:
Winter is, of course, the time to cut down trees, clear brambles and lay hedges. We discovered that our orchard field is actually bigger than we had realised and even uncovered 4 four apple trees that had been swamped with sloes and brambles.
As part of our winter clearing, We felled our own Christmas tree!
It was the best Christmas tree we’ve ever had. Although it was actually only the top third of the tree we felled. We also made some decorations with the off cuts.
With help from some of our friends, we cleared the area around the “well”, which is more of a spring really that we are going to turn into a pond for ducks and geese. This became more urgent when our fellow smallholder, Mandy from Glyn Elwyn offered to give us a breeding pair of geese called George & Gill. Here is a before and after picture (the trailer was where the recycled plastic goose house now stands).
We acquired a new Australorp cockerel from a lovely lady through Freecycle. We have called him JD and we were happy that the transition of alpha male from the old cockerel to JD was pretty smooth. The chickens suffered a few sniffles and sneezes over the coldest months of the year and they stopped laying eggs altogether. In spring we hope to start breeding Light Sussex and Australorp chickens for meat in earnest.
Another addition to the Penybanc menagerie is a Gloucester Old Spot piglet who we have called “Chanchita”. She was number 13 of the litter and so had little chance of surviving as (although sows usually have 14 teets) her mum only has 12 working teets as she has two blind ones. Again, this was a lovely donation to us from Mandy at Glyn Elwyn who has been an amazing source of tips and advice, including even teaching us to give injections.
Chanchita has already at least tripled in size and has discovered how to climb up onto the straw bale enclosure we made her in the kitchen. She even jumps down and plays with Dusk and generally gets under our feet.
And just a few days ago we took delivery of a compact tractor and some implements, which we got from a dealer in Somerset. We’re hoping that this will allow us to use our time more efficiently and do some serious planting of things like fodder crops on a larger scale, which will take us another step closer to self-sufficiency. This video is quite long as we heard Matty is likely to watch it over and over again:
Next week we’re slaughtering one of our Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. We’re going to attempt making ham, bacon and prosciutto for the first time. Eeek! Spring is just around the corner and it very much feels like the quiet before the storm as everything will start growing like mad. So we better get back to it – byeeee!
Autumn 2011 has had important moments for us at Penybanc and in our quest for self-sufficiency. The first was a lot of work for Jules as he built a hearth in the corner of the living room, disconnected the old oil boiler completely and plumbed in both a stove in the living room (a Stovax Stockton 8HB to be exact) and an Esse (model W35) in the kitchen as well as putting up two new flues. This means that our central heating and hot water are now completely carbon neutral, with all the fuel coming off our own land. The timing couldn’t have been better as no sooner could he utter “let there be heat” than the first chill could be felt in the air. Admittedly we still hve a lot of radiators to install, so the fairly stressful plumbing journey has not quite ended.
The next big moment for me was having to fulfil a promise, that I made over a year ago, that I would bake bread with flour from a local producer once the Esse was installed. Jules managed to source some flour from a water mill from mid Wales and I did my first baking! There is definitely room for improvement, but the bread was tasty and edible (if a little dense) – so I count it as success.
Then we had our first anniversary, on 5th November, of buying Penybanc so we had a bonfire party with some friends who had, very very kindly, helped us clean the place on our first day here (back when the place had been empty for a year, smelt very damp and was generally filthy and cold). Our mates brought some incredible fireworks and sparklers, we carved a pumpkin, made a Van Fawkes, had three dogs running round and served mulled cider and home reared pork out of the back of our Defender. It was a good way to mark this special ocassion.
It isn’t quite a turning point, but our border collie, Dusk, has recently been showing real development in her agility and intelligence. Also, her fear of the other animals seems to be a little less exteme. She is our little shadow around the smallholding, so I thought she deserved a mention.
The last big moment I was to tell you about happened today. Our chickens are very cute but so far they have not been productive at all. Having been hatched here on 9 May, we expected them to start laying 21 weeks later as suggested by the books. But this date came and went and then another 5 and a half weeks went by. As our hens free range, we have been searching the place but we assumed that we must just be failing to find the eggs. We had this morning decided that from tonight we would pen them into an area for a week just in case they were laying them somewhere hidden away. Then a couple of hours later one of the hens started making a massive racket, clucking like she’d just had the shock of her life and the cockerel was standing guard, joining in the cacophony. And there it was. A very small, warm, quite pointy, extremely white, EGG.
At 6pm on 15 July 2011, two neon-clad cyclists arrived at Penybanc having cycled 220 miles (350 km) from London including a gruelling last stretch through the Welsh hills.
These two get massive kudos from us for this feat, although that didn’t stop us from putting them to work the next day. Admittedly we kept it fairly light, with some mowing, raking, weeding and feeding the animals.
It was a really fun weekend. Thanks guys for all the help and for cycling all the way here!