Smallholding

We left our hurly-burly and hectic life in St. Albans and London to live a simpler quieter life, to raise our own livestock and grow our own vegetables and fruit. It has been a steep learning curve with mistakes and successes. Several years on we have settled into country life and the rhythm of the seasons, enjoying every moment.


No two years are the same but they usually go something like this ...

Winter

The winter months see us mainly indoors, doing all the internal jobs that we have put off during the year. We also plan the coming crops and pour over seed catalogues to find varieties that suit our soil and climate. February sees the arrival of the Seville oranges in the markets and shops – it's marmalade time which is a two day process. Outdoors on a sunny winter day we are pruning the apple trees, raspberry canes and roses. The thinning of the overcrowded hazel and ash trees provides wood for our wood burning stoves but you plan a couple of years ahead as wood needs to dry out before burning. We have been self-sufficient in wood now for quite a few years. We allow some seedlings of ash and hazel to grow on so that they will provide wood for burning in eight years time.
Our chickens are currently a mixed bunch as we are still looking for good layers. They do well in their first year but tend to lay less or not at all during the winter months. But they all have characters and are great garden companions although they can cause havoc at times. They roam freely around the garden and fields. Their favourite spot is the orchard and will often appear at the kitchen door in the afternoon looking for a treat.


Firewood ready to take in
Firewood ready to take in
Snuggled down in the snow
Snuggled down in the snow
Seville oranges for marmalade
Seville oranges for marmalade

Spring

Spring is a very busy season. In early march we buy orphan lambs which are usually only a few days old. They must be bottled fed and then weaned at six weeks. This is a lot of fun although the night feeds are a shock to the system! Spring is also the time to start sowing seeds and getting the vegetable beds ready, clearing away the winter crops, planting and weeding and picking rhubarb. The daffodils and tulips pop their heads up and are picked for the house and guest rooms. In May we buy in weaners at 6-8 weeks old. They are great fun and very friendly. Having the lambs and pigs in the fields brings the place to life. We often stand at the gates watching the lambs frolic and the pigs root around. The swifts are the first migratory birds to arrive, setting up nests in the open barn. Then come the house martins which make nests under the eaves of the house and barn. Watching them fly and duck and weave around the house and in the fields is spell binding.


Two little piggies
Two little piggies went to market
Greenhouse with Mr Tibbs snoozing
Greenhouse seedlings and Mr Tibbs
Friendly lambs
Friendly lambs

Summer

Summer is a wonderful time here. We open the pool and are mainly outdoors. The gardens are full of flower and scent, plenty of choice to pick for the house and guest rooms. We are busy with the vegetable and fruit garden and start cropping and making jams. Our apple orchard starts producing the first eaters in August and the fruit bowl for guests will be full right up to December with varieties that are not available in supermarkets and are often picked that day. We have mainly eaters with a few cookers. Surplus apples are made into crumbles, pies, sauces, compotes and simple cider using the wild yeast in the air to ferment the apples. Gorgeous stuff. Any apple waste is given to the piggies which they thoroughly enjoy.
Guests come and go marvelling at the peace and quiet and wishing they could stay longer.


Vegetable plot and cut flower bed
Vegetable plot and cut flower bed
Chickens on the charge
Chickens on the charge
Pheasant on the bird table
Pheasant on the bird table

Autumn

Autumn is a magical time of year as the leaves turn sunset colours and the days grow cooler and shorter. We are usually still feasting on our crops, freezing the surplus and making jams, chutneys, sloe gin and more cider. We are raking up leaves to compost and start clearing the vegetable beds and borders. We have quite a few compost bins and it is amazing how quickly they rot down and turn into lovely compost which is put back into the borders and vegetable beds. Nothing is wasted. We say goodbye to the lambs and piggies, and the fields are quiet once more. The swifts and house martins are there one day and gone the next. We close the pool and start to wind down for winter. Mr Tibbs our cat sighs with relief as it is time for evening fires and we sit still long enough for some cuddles.


The fruit and veg of our labours
The fruit and veg of our labours
Simple cider
Simple cider on the go
Mr Tibbs taking things easy
Mr Tibbs taking things easy
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