Spring 2016

So, winter has officially ended and so spring has started to take hold on the countryside around us.  What I realise as we head in to our third spring here at Axe Head Farm, is that Cornwall most definitely has it’s own seasons and weather fronts.  It’s almost irrelevant to work to the seasonal norms. Weather apps are okay to get a general idea of what the week ‘might’ look like, but should never be considered actual or factual.  You can make all the plans you want for the work you want to do in the week/month/season ahead, but quite honestly, it almost never works out how you’ve planned it!

A little over 5 weeks ago the hammerhead of our farm track dried out for the first time in about 4-5 months.  This meant that I could finally repair the damage to the track from having Western Power on site to install our electricity supply. Deep holes had been created by the heavy vehicles wheel spinning trying to get on and off the sodden land.  Although Western Power had done their best to repair the field and the track after the work was done, the repairs were largely cosmetic. Since the supply was installed in mid November 2015 we have been unable to get on and off the land with any type of vehicle for fear of getting stuck!  As is becoming the norm, this has put us dramatically behind where we planned to be by now when we were working it all out theoretically back in 2013!  In many ways, this break in the weather has enabled certain aspects of the project get back on track, quite literally, with plans a foot to get the farm track sorted, including the apron.  This will require the use of one of my favourite of recently acquired skills, operating a mini digger!!

20160516_140745_resizedBack in February of this year, we also welcomed the first hens to Axe Head Farm, and they have been a complete revelation to me.  I truly never saw my complete love and adoration of chickens coming.  They are fantastic animals, with right proper characters, and they just love to have fun and interact with you.  It’s crazy fab.

However, behind all of the joy, comes the dark side of livestock and animal welfare.  Sadly, and taken for the novices we are, we got conned on three hens and our rooster, Ronald.  Instead of being sold 4 month old hens and a 5 month old cockerel, we were sold a 3 year old cockerel with very ill health, and 3 hens each of about 2 years of age.  2 out of 3 of the hens had respiratory illness, one of which was despatched out of kindness, the other given an injection.  Ronald also had to go for the overall health and well-being of the flock.  It was a very sad day for us all.  On a positive note, the whole Rooster-gate thingy has caused me to progress work on the chicken run generally, and we are now in the position, that after the egg quarantine is over in the middle of June and all the girls are fit and well again, we will be able to bring in some new birds to the flock fairly easily, so we will be able to rebuild and move forward quite swiftly.  Hip hip hooray to that. And a BIG boo hiss to the seller of the cockerel and 3 hens.

20160514_152305_resizedVery excitedly, we have started to get some wee little baby eggs from our Black Copper Marans.  They are super little birds.  Very inquisitive, and whenever a new device, toy or food type is added to daily life, you can almost guarantee that leading the way will be one of the newly hen-shaped, quickly growing up, pullets. There eggs are lovely chocolate brown colours, and, whilst they are like mini eggs, they are almost entirely all yolk.  YUM  Plans for breeding are still very much the way forward, but our replacement cockerel will perhaps be Black Copper Maran, as opposed to another Light Sussex lad.  We’ll see.  Might even end up with a few different cockerels.  I’ll let you know mid to late June!

We’ve started work on the fencing for the pig pasture and market garden area.  Right at this very minute, the doors to our poly tunnel are being made on the floor of our neighbours workshop.  By the end of the bank holiday weekend we hope to have the frames up, doors hung and the skirt put on for the covers!!  Last summer was a disaster for me injury wise and surgery wise, and it feels like the winter we’ve just had is one of the wettest/windiest in decades.  I’ve definitely felt it colder in temperature, even in the last couple of years down here in Cornwall, but the near constant wind and rain over winter have been a proper drag.  To be working outside without the need for a coat in the last couple of weeks is almost heavenly.

20160526_115907_resized_1Some of you may well have heard me refer to my baby Cornish Marmalade Orange Trees (C-MOT’s for short!), or even previously seen pictures of them in peat pots living in a tiny propagator on my windowsill, or more recently, on the floor of the shower in the caravan! Well, they have finally moved out of the shower room and in to their very own cold frame outside.  This is in preparation for them moving in to the poly tunnel inside the poly tunnel in the fullness of time.  Very exciting.  I can’t wait to be eating marmalade that has been home-grown from the pips of Seville Oranges. right here at Axe Head Farm.

20160526_120506_resized

Next year sees us able to take the first real fruits from our orchard.  This year will doubtlessly see some recipe experimentation with apples.  We also have plans for baking with the apples, using up some of our misshapen eggs, and also, to try out 3 or 4 pickled egg recipes, including one using apple cider vinegar.  Adrian is the real foody.  I’ve worked in catering previously, so understand much of the industry, when it comes to taste though, Adrian is a magician.  One of my jobs on at the moment, is to build the farm-gate sales cart.  Once the poly tunnel is up, we will be able to get on with so much more produce production and get yet more products to the local market, we move one step closer to getting this baby up and running productively.  I wonder how many more times I can use product/produce/production or productively, productively in this paragraph??

Maple

Over winter we have planted something close to 1,800 willow whips to create natural windbreaks, and to add to the aesthetics of the farm as a whole.  These have been strategically placed to also create sun traps for fruits etc… that require plenty of shelter to keep hold of their beautiful blossoms.  As the windbreaks grow and develop along with the farm, we also intend for them to be able to shelter some bee hives to aid with pollination and make honey to help people with hay-fever in the local area, us included!  Plans are afoot for much as we launch in to summer, but as I learned only to quickly going in to last summer, the best made plans n’all… I’m just not prepared to go much beyond what I’ve already said and risk jinxing myself for this summer… how about a simple, watch this space!

We find ourselves in an awkward predicament for this mid-spring time of year, everything has started to grow with a mad growth spurt, just as all of our cutting devices decide now is the time to get temperamental.  Our strimmer has a fuel issue, our push-mower handles have all but completely sheared and are only staying on with the help of duct tape and sticks, and our tractor mower is in desperate need of a service and the local service centre is going to get to it dereckly!!  Aka Man-yana, Man-yana!!  By the time we are able to cut the grass again it’ll be as deep as our bellies!!

Right, well I think that’s pretty much us up to date on all the news.  We plan on pushing ever more forward over the coming months, so a great deal is likely to be happening.  As soon as I wrote the page about my CRPS it almost instantly gave me a massive twinge to just remind me that it’s only ever a step away, but I’m pleased to say, somewhat ironically, that the recently acquired tennis elbow is giving me more trouble than my actual long term condition! I just have to try and force myself to rest every now and then and do a blog instead! Whatever you are doing with your summer this year, I hope it stays nice for you (and for us!), and if you are heading our way, we are looking forward to seeing you here and showing you round our dream!  It seems we are up for a good few visits over summer.  Brilliant!

Imminent over the next week or so whilst I have an extra pair of hands available in the form of our youngest, Zak, we will be mostly putting the poultry net up over the rest of the 6 foot run, get the farm gate sales cart completed, and potentially, time and weather permitting, building another cold frame out of yet more donated offcuts, to get even more seeds on whilst we get the poly tunnel finished off.  We have also had the loan of 3 awesomely large heated propagators, thank you Lorraine Field, to be filled and plants up and growing.  I do love this time of year.

Ooh!  And before I dash off and forget, I’m fairly sure that Ade and I saw the female cuckoo again last weekend, and I’m fairly certain I heard the cuckoo’s classic call the other day, so fingers crossed we get another good sighting and a photo!  No recent sightings of the barn owl to be reported either.

Beef Stroganoff recipe

Di had a hankering for Beef Stroganoff, this happens often and I usually cheat and use a ready mixed sauce (no cooker = you need every cheat there is!). Anyway, today I had both an oven, and I was going shopping, so when I picked up the ready mix packet, I looked at the ingredients and got the main ones… you know, the ones that didn’t look like they belonged in a chemistry set.

I also googled ‘stroganaoff recipe’ and found almost every recipe was different, so I gave up the idea of following a recipe and just went with my instincts.

Quite by chance, considering the ‘knocked up’ nature of the meal, it was delicious, really delicious, so worth recording here, mainly so I don’t forget.

I didn’t have any beef steak to slice up, so just used beef mince, but sliced beef steak would be better and chicken would be fine too. This sauce is delicious and also very flexible, judging by the google search. So, while I did this, if you don’t have double cream, or red wine vinegar, don’t worry, just go ahead anyway.

I had a 700g packet of beef mince and used the following for the sauce

2 Onions, chopped and about 2 heaped teaspoons of smoked paprika (change this according to your taste) Fry these together in a bit of oil and add:

250g of chestnut mushrooms – I just took off the stalks and cut them into quarters. More mushrooms would be fine. Add them to the frying onions. After a minute or two I added about

5 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. I think this is the maximum you could do, 3 would be ideal. I also squirted in a

Couple of tablespoons of tomato puree.

Then some beef stock… I had none so I used Bisto Onion gravy granules and about 200ml of boiling water. An oxo cube would be fine too.

Then I added the beef and put some rice on to cook.

After the beef was cooked through, and the rice was ready, I turned the heat down and added

4 tablespoons of double cream and a small pot of sour cream. It doesn’t need to be boiled after you add these, in case they separate. Also add a good

Splash of brandy… if you cook on gas you could light this for effect.

I taste tested and for flavour added more paprika and some salt and pepper and a good pinch of parsley.

Sorry, I wish I’d had some photo’s, but really, I was just knocking something up, I didn’t expect it to be as nice as it was.

 

 

 

 

 

Nectarine Salsa recipe (no onions).

The Nectarine Salsa went down well last night, so here’s the recipe I used.

I made far too much, so perhaps halve it… or not, it’ll keep a day or two in the fridge and probably improve… and that makes me think, it’d do no harm to make it in the morning to use in the evening – gets a job out of the busy hour or so before a barbeque begins.

3 Nectarines – chopped small – how small depends on how chunky you like your salsa.

8 tomatoes – scoop out the seeds and juice or the salsa gets too runny.

Chillies – chopped small – number and type to your taste, but I used 2 quite mild ones.

The best part of a bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped quite small.

Fresh Black pepper.

Juice of half a lime.

Tomato Ketchup – a very good squeeze – as much as you think matches your salsa.

There is plenty of room to fancy this up a bit, and using the best ingredients will be rewarding – vine tomatoes, a fancier ketchup, like Reggae Reggae sauce, or a sun dried tomato sauce.

Spring Forward!

Fog - 8th May 2015

Admittedly, Spring hasn’t arrived with any great break in the weather so far, but that hasn’t stopped us moving forward with our plans!  The last frost was as late as the 30th April, and much of the weather up to this last fortnight or so has been fog, mizzle and/or rain.  Since the weather has brightened up it feels like the grasses and docs are growing at a rate of about 3 inches a day, and much of the land is now taken over by it!  So, where initially I couldn’t see the other side of the fields for the fog and mizzle, pretty soon I won’t be able to see the other side for the long grasses!!

As I mentioned, the weather hasn’t dampened our enthusiasm to get things moving along this year, and the bad weather days have given me the opportunity to sort out other, less weather dependent jobs.  I’ve had plenty of down time for sorting out the businesses accounts (well. at least getting all the receipts and invoices in date order!), getting more odd jobs done inside the caravan (there’s not much of the original ‘Holiday Home’ fittings left in it!), and building and installing our indoor compost ‘bucket’ loo.

Compost LooBuilding the compost ‘bucket’ loo has been a real moment for me!  Adrian did lots of research on indoor compost loo’s and was worried that, with all the things we are doing and have still to do, building it myself was a job too many.  My main issue, being a northerner, was the price of a shop bought solution, with the cheapest ones retailing at £200 plus.  That’s equivalent to 4 rolls of rabbit mesh/chicken wire (easily enough for our first chicken run!) and far too much money in my northern head for something to receive our poop!!  I had timber left from building hedgehog houses and hedgehog feeding stations (something I did in a previous life!), so all I needed was some 2″ x 2″ timber for the frame of the loo, a toilet seat and a bucket.  The total cost being just £30, not £200.  I managed to get the buckets, 5 of them, at the cost of just £1!  In fact, the toilet seat is the most expensive part of the whole loo at a cost of £13!!  Go Di!!

Using the compost loo for the first time was odd.  Not because there was no flush, you had to cover your own poop, or for fear of smell for me, but because I was so proud of my construction work, it seemed a shame to soil it!  Anyway, use it we did.  It’s been in service now for just short of a month.  It’s absolutely brilliant, even if I do say so myself.  It’s like witchcraft.  Other than the time of pooping smells, it just doesn’t smell!  We both expected that the bin would permeate the whole caravan with the smell of our toilet habits, but no, not a whiff of odour.  Amazing!!  By putting a layer of straw at the bottom of the bucket and covering your business with sawdust, the system works superbly well.

Bin StorePretty quickly we had 3 full buckets of toilet product and then I had the next problem to deal with, where to store the waste to allow it to break down in to usable compost in 12 months time??  After more research, we came up with a plan to have 6 x 240 litre wheelie bins in a bin store over where the rest of the compost will be made.  We are now officially putting our by-products to good use!!  It’s truly revolutionary and we are loving it, although emptying the buckets in to the wheelie bin is not on my list of favourite jobs on the farm, and I very much doubt that it ever will be, but needs must and so I do!

Two weeks ago we managed to treble the size of our apple orchard.  In June 2014 we planted our first 11 apple trees and had been so happy to see the first trees going in the ground.  Planting the next 22 was even better!  We played a game of filling in the gaps that we had left, increased the overall size of the orchard and Adrian came up with an unusual game of apple tree planting Connect 4!  Every time we planted a tree that completed a line or diagonal, he shouted out the total number of points scored!!  It broke up the monotony of what could have otherwise been a chore, but instead was just great fun!  We look forward to the day that we get to harvest some of our apples and start making produce with them.  Exciting times ahead!

Caravan Enclosure 2I’ve also managed to finish off enclosing the caravan completely to make a farm yard for safe storage.  I’m pretty proud of the double gates I’ve made!  It’s allowed us to move equipment and supplies into one place, rather than having them stored all around the farm.  Everything is starting to really come together for us.  And, every time I worry that I can’t step up to the challenge, I seem to surpass myself and prove myself capable of the job.  Very satisfying indeed!

The Lavender and Blueberries are settling in well and are in the process of being rescued from the advent of quick growing grasses.  They are all getting more compost, more bark chippings and a good dose of tender loving care.  I’m not going to add a photo of them until they are looking at their best and all of them have been sorted for the growing season!

PhoneOne exciting bit of news is that the farm now has a landline number!!  That said, our apologies go to our local readers for the disturbance to your phone lines over the May Bank Holiday weekend.  It seems that the BT engineers played a twisted game where they reconnected the lines, but to the wrong numbers.   I believe there was also a disturbance to broadband services.  It is all sorted now, but we appreciate it can’t have been much fun at the time.   Our landline number is available via our contacts page.  It will only be answered if we are in earshot of it, and we have no answering machine on the line at the present time, so most people will probably prefer to ring the mobiles still, but hey, we’ve got a landline number now!

So, what’s ahead for us?  Well, our first poly tunnel is on it’s way to us, so we hope to have that erected as soon as we can, weather and wind permitting!  I intend to start the construction of our first chicken run in the next week, so that is an exciting time for us.  I’m really looking forward to really fresh eggs to eat!  We also plan to get the first of the pig enclosures up over the next month or so, and to rabbit proof another area for growing more produce to add value to and sell at the farm gate. We have more work to do on the farm track, and there’s plenty of piles of earth still to move, so I’m guessing I’m not going to get that many days off over the rest of this year, but to be fair, that’s what I signed up for… and, there’s plenty of time for R&R when I’m dead!!

Have I mentioned how much I love my job in recent updates??  Nothings changed… building your dreams out of empty fields truly is the best and most satisfying job in the world!!!

Adrian’s Inspiration

I started reading a book again, that I have read before several times and realized this book had influenced my life.  I started wondering about how many books had done that and I have a top 3 significant books. There is a 4th book that could have been included in my Top 3, but then it would have been a Top 4 then and nobody does a Top 4 list.

Here is my Top 3. I’d be interested in knowing books that would make your top 3 – feel free to post a reply.

Pete GossClose to the Wind by Pete Goss

I saw Pete Goss do a speech/presentation at a conference.  Frankly, he wasn’t all that polished in the way most presentational speakers are.  But there was no doubting his integrity, bravery and commitment.  I bought his book.  That Christmas I bought 10 copies and gave them as Christmas presents. Nowhere in life, or education does anyone illustrate motivation and commitment  as well as Pete Goss does in his book. Perhaps Richard Branson’s book, Losing my Virginity comes close, but it doesn’t have the physical element, and there are many books by athletes that come close, but they focus on the the physical commitment. None I have read have the moral dilemma. I believe this one book has made me able to make decisions in a way I was unable to, prior to reading it.

Tree House DiariesTree House Diaries by Nick Weston

So, around the time I was getting divorced, the recession was at its nadir and my business was struggling, and I know, looking back now, I know I was pretty depressed, I read this book.  I read it then because I had genuine fears about becoming homeless and so I had a vested interest. The result though was a reawakening in my interest in nature and ‘outside’ that I had forgotten from my childhood. I was an outdoors child, but had become an indoors adult and that seemed odd. When I considered what I wanted I realized I was working month to month to pay bills and was nowhere on any plan that I actually found fulfilling. This started me out looking to buy woodland. Other books I read, and meeting Di and learning of her ambitions amended that journey to include agricultural land and as it turned out woodland dropped out of the picture (for now!). But this book started me on the path.

TastesTastes of the Unexpected by Mark Diacono

So, as we are mulling over the possibilities of agricultural land I read this book. The original plan was for a self sufficient lifestyle. This was because I had started doing supermarket shopping with an eye on cost, rather than my previous technique that mostly involved bright packaging. I was amazed at the cost of fruit and veg – 50p for an apple, 50p for a tomato. I looked at my retirement and could not see  a sustainable way of living. I figured I needed to go for an off grid self sufficient lifestyle.

Reading Mark Diacono’s book, Tastes of the Unexpected was a game changer for me. It showed me that I didn’t need to grow potatoes and carrots. I could grow other, much more interesting crops and that moved my ambitions for a ‘self sufficient’ lifestyle into ambitions for a (hopefully, as it is very early days) ‘commercially viable’ farming lifestyle. I can make jams, pickles and other nice stuff, but this would give me an edge that I believed in.

Believed in enough to make a commitment and a 100% decision that would have been previously unmakeable. Believed in enough to adopt an outdoors lifestyle. Believed in enough to be sure we can make a success of this farm. Believed in enough to take these risks with my wife, who I have committed to protect from risk.

The 4th book is more technical and legal, so I didn’t include it as it is not an interesting read, unless you are immersed in this world. It gave me knowledge and with knowledge comes power and confidence. It was definitely influential. E-mail me if you are interested.

V F frustrating…

I AM SO FRUSTRATED RIGHT NOW!!!!!!

It has to be said that still having a problem with my shoulder, and just entering my 5th week of it, is doing my nut in.  I had an x-ray last night and should get the results in a week or so.  Meanwhile, I have a pack of Anti-inflammatory’s to munch my way through.  Ho hum.

I’ve got so many jobs stacking up at the farm and all this does is pushes us further & further behind our targets… It’s going to be a much busier winter than I had planned, that’s for sure…

Anyway, in other news, the ‘somewhat perky’ pickled onions have just been taste-tested at 2 weeks young and they are WOW! Sensational! Delicious already… AND, Adrian’s just made another batch today 😀

A quick update from Di…

Hi, it’s Di here!

It’s now the 5th March and where has Axe Head Farm got to?  Other than enjoying walking the dog, the use of the land is quite limited at the present time due to a couple of legal delays.  To compensate, I’m busy getting the business plan up to speed and doing the drawings and maps that are required for our initial ground works, barn, fencing etc…

christmastree3There has been some progress up on the land though!  I planted our first tree yesterday and it was a Christmas Tree :-)  The Christmas tree was brought to us courtesy of Anna Williams.  It was a real honour to get the first tree in the ground.  Hopefully the tree will love its new environment and become a feature of the entrance for all to see.  It was in Anna’s front room at Christmas 2013, then her garden temporarily, before finally ending up in her van en route to us.  I’ll provide pictures when Anna sends or posts a couple, perhaps even the planting ceremony :-)

Tool Bags

I’m really excited today!  I’ve finally unpacked my new tool carrying bags, accessories and accessory belt.  I will hopefully now feel confident enough to get them packed and ready for when I finally get a green light to start on the ground works, fencing and barn etc…  I plan to put a fairly large vehicle pull-in area at the farms entrance so that when the big trucks start arriving with the farms infrastructure, they will be able to pull in off the lane and out of everyone’s way.  It should work out pretty handy for visitors to be able to pull in and park up, without the risk of getting bogged down.  It’s still pretty damp at the farm at the moment, so really needs a 4wd to cut some tracks for us, to show the best routes around the land.

That leads me on to another exciting developments!  On Sunday morning we are going to meet Anna and Duncan over at the farm.  Duncan’s going to play out with his 4wd, let me and Adrian sit in it, as we see our track-ways properly formed for the first time :-)  We are both really excited.

I hope that we can aim toward bringing our first pigs onto the land in early 2015, so there’s lots of fencing and sty’s to be built!  Chickens should become a feature by the autumn of 2014!  Busy times ahead as soon as I can get going properly… I’ll keep you informed :-)

Cheese making – 1st results

Back on the 16th March I made my first cheese…

Since then, I let it dry for a while and then waxed it – so it looked like a baby bel…a 2lb baby bel.

I’ve left it to mature for almost 2 months…but today curiousity got the better of me and I cut the cheese. Di captured the moment on video…and if you are looking at my hand wondering if I have buboes (as in ‘bubonic plague’) let me reassure you, they are just some burns from some carrot soup I made the other day.

We’ve had some cheese on some nice walnut bread and it tastes delicious. The flavour is like a mild cheddar and quite soft and crumbly…more crumbly than lancashire. I think that is because I didn’t let the curd get firm enough when I made it, I’ll be more patient with my next batch.

Soda Bread – a miracle in 4 minutes

DSCF1020I’ve never made soda bread before…can’t even be certain I’ve eaten it before, but saw it being made on TV last night and it looked easy and fairly flexible about ingredients.

Not completely flexible, you understand, there were basics involved – 500g flour, a big teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and a teaspoon of salt.

From there, one of the bakers last night used guinness as his ‘liquid’ and the other used buttermilk.

Now, I had neither, but I did have some creme fraiche in the fridge…which is made of yogurt and butter milk and that seemed pretty close, so I reckoned I’d give it a shot.

At 8.50 I asked Di if she wanted bagels or soda bread for breakfast… on the basis that I wanted to be sat in front of the TV by 9am to watch the Grand Prix. She opted for Soda bread, mainly out of curiosity I think, since there was none in the house and I was just stood there making a cup of coffee and obviously not doing baking.

So, with 10 minutes available, and humming the Benny Hill theme tune I set to work. Di gave me a minute by minute countdown. I put the oven on.

I had a bag of flour – weighed it – 600g. I tipped it into a large bowl from a height (I figured that by doing this I avoided the need to sieve it) and made sure I was a bit more generous with the Bicarb and the salt and I grabbed the Creme Fraiche (1 Minute) – there didn’t seem enough, so I threw some milk in too, I don’t know how much, but I was aiming for a total of about 600ml.  I think next time I will aim for less liquid than flour, it was slightly too sticky.

I mixed the lot, (2 minutes) firstly with a knife and then with one hand until it bound together (3 minutes)…no kneading like normal dough, Soda bread is better if it receives literally the least mixing you can do.

I put it on a baking tray (4 minutes) and popped it in the oven, grabbed my coffee and settled down in front of the TV to watch the parade lap and start of the grand prix.

…45 minutes later this came out of the oven, fantastically rustic looking and soft on the inside…

We ate it with some home made marmalade and home made raspberry jam….delicious…

Pickled Garlic

DSCF1019I’ve have ‘making’ days – said in the same way as someone who does baking.

So, over the weekend I noticed that I could buy 20 garlic bulbs on a string for £2 or buy single bulbs at 30p each. Well, you can pickle garlic so I got the string.

Pickling garlic is easy, just peel the garlic, stick it in a jar with some  bay leaves, fennel seeds and peppercorns and add some boiling vinegar – I used organic cider vinegar for these, but ran out with the last jar, so tried that with red wine vinegar.

From here, I just use the garlic in the place of normal garlic.

Apparently there was a whiff of garlic about the kitchen, but I have a cold and was completely unaware of it!

Pumpkin Carving

This year I didn’t really get into the spirit of Halloween until the last minute. So, we went off to buy some pumpkins.

Now, since Di has lived with me I have slowly become more interested in my artistic side, and so, this year I thought that rather than create a jaggedy face with a carving knife, I’d try something requiring a bit more effort… enjoy!