Phase 2

It has been a year since we put a proper post on the website and it has been a year of frustration, stress and generally lurching from one disaster/emergency/health scare/mechanical failure/money sucking event to another. ‘Living the dream’ is supposed to be hard, otherwise we would all do it, but man, this has been testing!

Anyway, back on topic, we have always been aware that in order for the farm to make money, we would have to sell directly to the public. All other channels will be better at driving down our prices than we are at driving them up. We thought that would be doing hog roasts and barbeque event catering and farmers markets and this remains the plan… just amended slightly.

So, in March my contract in Newcastle was coming to an end and I’d not seen any new contracts advertised since December so, with alot of unemployed contractors, and day rates dropping like a stone it was a worry. We decided that there were three options: find work in Cornwall (very scarce in my line of work), keep my fingers crossed a contract comes up before the limited savings run out, or bring a version of a later plan forwards to help the farm start making money.

As it happens, the Thursday before the end of the contract ended, I landed a new contract starting the following Monday, so we needn’t have worried.

But, not knowing this, we chose the third option. We bought a burger trailer and a 4 wheel drive to pull it, and got a licence to trade from the layby just down from the farm. That officially wiped us out for savings, we needed to be trading from the Monday I stopped work.

Now, I need to say, we looked at many trailers, and most were toe curlingly hideous, one in particular made Di gag as she walked in. The trailer we found looked perfect, clean, equipped and ready to go. The guy that sold it to us, I’ll call him George, explained the ways of making a good profit, like the Ginsters factory outlet where you can buy frozen sausage rolls for 10p and pasties for 29p. He had every cheap bit of knowledge there was (not that useful, but interesting to hear. Selling Ginsters sausage rolls isn’t anywhere in our plans), and in addition, he was from Yorkshire and you can trust Yorkshiremen to be straight talkers… we thought.

Anyway, it rained that weekend… the roof leaked and the walls, hatch and door.

Di, with help from our friend Gavin resealed the roof, which was badly bodged by the previous owner, filled the holes in the walls and sorted out the door and hatch.

The leaks made the griddle go rusty and, after all the usual remedies failed, we ended up sending the griddle off to a metal fabricator for a brand new work surface. When we repositioned the griddle, we found out the floor underneath was spongy and needed a new support beam.

The feet of the caravan were fine, except for the one that needed a complete rebuild, carried out most kindly by our lovely neighbour, Rob, who is an engineering genius.

As it turned out, the work surfaces were too thin and badly installed, so Di installed new work surfaces. The tea urn was electric, not gas so we needed a new one, the pie warmer was useless, so was replaced, the microwave was tiny so needed replacing, the till just didn’t work, the gas pipes were unsafe so Di installed a new gas system (checked and passed), the plugs were in all the wrong places, including an open plug socket exactly underneath all the water storage. The water heater didn’t work and there was no water pump, so we got them and Di installed them.

That’s OK then… oh the fridge conked out, making a load of meat unusable. The drinks fridge is no good for cans, it’s a wine fridge. The ceiling light needed rewiring and the other plug, that was shorting got rewired too.

The hatch didn’t rise properly or close properly so Di replaced the gas struts and latches.

So, it’s been something of a saga, next time we will buy a new empty unit, because as it turns out, Di is perfectly capable of fitting out a catering trailer from scratch, just how we want it!

Burger TrailerAnyway, now it is as good as the trailer we thought we were buying. Di has also done every exam known to man, Levels Two and Three Food Hygiene, Gas Safety, First Aid, Fire Extinguisher, Health and Safety and HACCP exams.

There has been an elephant in the room the whole time though. We are relying on generator power, and with me back at work, how was Di to get the generator out of the car and back in. We bought the lowest Kwh generator we thought we could get away with, but it’s still 50kg. We looked at super strong drawer runners, a winch and ramp, none of which seemed ‘easy’ to sort out. In the end, we consulted with the Rob, our engineering genius and he has created an exhaust pipe, in the Steampunk style, that will mean the generator can remain in the boot of the car.

I’m not sure how many now… but Di has acquired a few more hats from the College of Necessity. It’s lovely seeing her pause for a moment and then seeing her confidence take hold and she takes on a new skill. The Gas and Electricity have both been properly tested and signed off, so her confidence is well placed.

I’ve been trying out various recipes for burgers and having settled on minced chuck steak, we then optimised the fat content (you need fat for moistness), starting at 25% fat and found a ratio between 5% and 10% worked well and our favourite butcher can provide this.

I also resPure Chuck Steak burger with Burger rub and a shake of Jalopeno powder. Red Onion, Lettuce, cheese, pickle, all in a toasted brioche bunearched the various seasonings. I wanted pure chilli powders to use (Jalopeno, Habanero, Aji Amarillo,etc) rather than the blended kind you generally see in the shops – Chilli powder is a blend of the three most popular chilli’s used in Mexico, plus various herbs and spices. This makes it tricky to use as an ingredient because different suppliers have different recipes. It’s the same with paprika, in Hungary alone there are 7 types, then you get the Spanish and South American varieties and the shops generally supply a blended version. I wanted specific varieties.

We’ve carried out many taste tests ourselves and several with with friends, which was also to help me get used to using the trailer. Everyone seems positive… here’s a real life photo, which I hope does it some justice, at least you can see it isn’t a standard roadside burger.

Finally, this week, we agreed our own recipe Axe Head tea blend with our friends at West Country Tea Co.

And, now, we are ready to trade. Just have to tow it down to the layby… oh, yes, the car we bought for the towing? We had to scrap it. (Well, we sold it to the stock car racing place as a swap for some buttons). It was worse than the trailer.

Buying the trailer, we were green and got caught out in a way that wouldn’t occur if we weren’t first timers. The car we bought from someone who we feel was probably quite expert at this kind of thing, so while we kick ourselves, we know there’s not alot we can do. We suspect the MOT was dodgy, but can’t prove anything.

But, we took a decision to put these things behind us and although George is still the subject of occassional profanity as another piece of his handiwork becomes apparent, we are now more excited about trading than sad about the blood, sweat, tears and money that we have spent so far!

Wish us luck, and if you want a seriously good burger, you know where to come!

Summer 2016 – From the Heart

Well, I woke up earlier than usual this morning due mostly to another spot of illness.  That’s generally quite unusual for me, although I have just had two episodes in the last two weeks. I mostly just wake up still aching!  I work harder than my body can cope with, but my theory is that that’s the way to make it ultimately stronger.  My ankle still has it’s moments, but more worrying at the moment is that the big toe of my poorly foot is developing an area of numbness from it’s tip and down one side.  Although this doesn’t hinder my ability anymore than the injury to the ankle itself, it is something I need to get checked out.  The nerve damage to my ankle may never fully recover, and that concerns me when it comes to my unbend-able big toe going numb.  It is difficult getting to the doctors during this hot weather when they are actually open, as I can’t leave Bob in the caravan, anymore than I would ever leave him in the car at the doctors surgery.  Thanks to a very good friend, I now have an appointment booked.

Weather July 2015Moving on to the topic of the weather, this recent spell of good weather has been an absolute blessing, and things are really starting to move along.  As you may well remember if you visited last year in July or August, or read last year’s ‘There Goes Summer’ update, it was a very frustrating summer up here in 2015.  The weather through most of July and August saw us sat mostly in good old Cornish mizzle.  Conditions improved to give us a brief respite through September and October, but then the really persistent wind and rain set in from November through to the end of March this year.  During that period of weather we experienced many 50 mile an hour wind storms, but one helluva 80 mile an hour storm.  That was a fierce northerly that cause a fair bit of damage across the west country, and in particular parts of Cornwall.  The static caravan, although chained down, was definitely being tugged about at the bed end!  It was like trying to sleep in the cabin of an overnight ferry crossing on an equally stormy night.  I’ll just call it VERY entertaining!!

In early June I had another visit from Planning Enforcement.  Another complaint.  Apparently I’m not going fast enough.  Well, blow me! I’m one woman and her clamps.  I’m going as fast as I can! Suffice to say, there are other extraneous circumstances, not just that I am rehabilitating after a serious accident that saw me classed as 52% disabled by a top doctor, just 3 short years ago.  I’m going above and beyond what my body can cope with, and I’m mostly doing it through dogged-determination and Yorkshire grit!  If you are in any way worried by what you believe I am doing here, or just have some questions about my ambitions for Axe Head Farm as a business, I’m more than happy to address them.  Just pop in or email or call.  I’m quite happy to give you an explanation of where I am heading.  We have nothing to hide.  Get to know us and give us a chance.  That’s what I would do anyhow.

Hammerhead1Anyway, so far this year, great progress has been made.  The view when you look in through the gate has dramatically altered!  The hammerhead of the farm track finally started drying out regularly enough from late March to get some repair work done to it, to strengthen it after having the electricity board on the land mid November (it was a pretty wet and wild day!) and the service finally connected in early December 2015.  The arrival of reliable and constant power was revolutionary for us.  I still smile when I think of the 8 months that I did staying up here with only a couple of hours power each day, and coping with a warm shower only on the days that the sun was out and strong enough to heat the water up in the hose!  Otherwise a shower was either super-chilly, chilly or almost bearable! Having power also meant that chickens were possible, moving on to eventually having pigs, goats, geese and alpacas.  Adrian had a dream one night, early on in the research and planning process, that alpacas could teleport, making fencing for them totally futile!  Once teleported from one side of the locked gate to the other, they then grin at you inanely!  I guess it takes a particular type of person to take on this life.  Slight leanings toward a kind of sane insanity, definitely helps!!  Work on the pig pastures has started, with other areas of fencing also going up, and trellis/supports planned hither and tither for vines, soft fruits etc… Some very exciting things coming up.

Another huge leap forward since the dry-spell started has included me putting my ‘digger driver’ cap on for two weeks.  In the fortnight we got loads done.  In the second week I was joined by a friend who put them self on dumper duty and bob looking out for duty.  The water supply now easily reaches both the poly tunnel and the first pig pasture.  What was lovingly referred to as the ‘sand dunes’, an area just inside the middle field created by randomly dumping the diggings out of the farm track, has now been reworked/flattened to now be known by us as the ‘bowling green’.  As you walk between the newly created berms and the Cornish hedges leading through the old gateway, you can often catch sight of a few varying sized rabbits, laiking out on the warm, currently exposed soil, sunbathing.  One of the biggest issues with the rabbits is that they dig in to the Cornish hedges, creating a fairly large warren, destabilising the hedge.  With the hedges being good boundaries, hollowed out, they are extremely prone to collapse, and therefore, unreliable boundaries for livestock.  In order to work with the rabbits as far as we can we have a lot of stock and rabbit fencing to erect!

MedlarThrough the winter months, and thanks to our neighbours Rob and Carol, we have planted 1,800 trees to provide windbreaks.  We’ve also been busy moving berms and recreating them to add interest to the land, whilst adding even more shelter too.  When we were looking at land initially, we really wanted somewhere that had a small bit of woodland, or a lovely copse, but other than the hedges, Axe Head Farm is barren of trees.  Our neighbours have a woodland and when we go and visit them, the woods are part of the route.  It’s such a treat!  So, being as we are building our dream, it’s only right that we add to the tree population, and in addition, we are adding to what our neighbours have started.  We look forward to seeing updates on Google Maps, because it still shows on there as a ploughed axe!  An updated image will show the early days of development at the land formerly known as ‘Viscar Fields’, becoming Axe Head Farm.

Good friends of ours have been over to visit from Newquay recently, Martyn and Martina.  They run a Cornish based foodie business, and just recently at a BBQ, Adrian impressed them with his ‘clear to me’ culinary gift.  No small thing given that Martyn is a chef, and their company is called The Secret Chef!  Their range is full of truly scrumptious products.  Check out their website, ‘Secret Chef’.  It is well worth a visit!  Walking round the farm together and talking about the vision of our heads is one of our favourite pastimes.  Seeing it slowly evolve and appear from the ground up is one of our greatest pleasures.  Sharing it with people is simply awesome, as to us, it truly is a lovely place to be.  Walking around with Martyn and Martina is always inspiring, and always are plans are added to and/or updated, each and every time we are all together.  It has already been a great summer for us for visitors, with the last 3 or 4 weeks being filled with friends, family, a BBQ and more.  That too, is all part of the dream for us.

Poly tunnel updated 2aToday was the day we had earmarked for getting the hot-spot tape on the poly tunnel, however, the weather has different plans.  It’s quickly gone from mizzle to a more persistent rain.  Instead, Adrian is researching more product ideas for his forthcoming business, whilst I blog about the progress being made on my new business, building a farm/smallholding from my caravan in the field.  Once it eases off again, or even brightens up, we are off out to mark out the perimeter fence posts for the soft fruits/herbs area for Adrian’s needs.  That will enable me to start construction on the supports etc… required, and to build the quail enclosure.  So excited about quail.  They are so darned cute, and of course, I will make it as authentic as possible for them, whilst protecting them for their survival.

Once the poly tunnel is covered over and ready for use, we have the tremendous joy of getting it set up to Adrian’s specification, and getting cracking with huge task of creating a harvest to start creating the foodie stuff in Adrian’s head, in to real life taster products of future lines.  It’s great that it is all getting that little bit closer again.  We have bailed on the option of getting a crew of people together to put the cover on the poly tunnel, as we have found someone who will do it on his own and for a very reasonable price.  This also means, that with at least the base infrastructure of the farm track down, we can start on creating the apron and barn.  The frame of our barn is metal, and will require some big toys to put together.  Meccano on a massive scale!  I won’t be learning to operate those toys – boo hiss!  It is one thing to earn new caps, but safety on a structure that size is paramount, so I’m happy to leave that bit to the experts.

MapleThe visitors pick up again after a couple of quiet weeks, and I’m looking forward to sharing Axe Head Farm with more first time visitors, and if I’m cheeky (which be warned if you’re coming, I am!), get a helping hand on one or two of the many more two-people jobs, were my handy clamps that usually work, just don’t cut the mustard!  My eldest lad will be down for a couple of weeks very soon, and as he’s grown up, he’s shown himself more and more to be a fine young lad.  In fact, I believe I’m very lucky with both my boys.  Fine young men.  With Finn down we will be able to get a good bit done, and yet more stuff will spring up from the ground.  Both boys are more than happy to put in a shift to cover their staying here, and they are getting stronger and fitter from helping out!  Two of the very first trees planted here at Axe Head Farm were a Medlar and a Maple.  Each one chosen and planted by our boys to connect them to the farm.

I feel very proud of what I have personally achieved here so far.  I seem to have earned a dozen new caps to swap between, just from having an attitude of ‘I can do that’.  Most recently, I earned my ‘mechanics cap’ for fixing our tractor mower.  After an initial lesson with my neighbour Rob, on taking the cutting deck off, and what all the bits are, I’ve replaced the engine pulley, the Kevlar belt and the blade, mostly on my own, so we can mow again.  I’ve just spent the last two days fixing the mower (with a little help undoing the blade nut from Rob, and his assistance putting it back together!), and mowing all the areas that affect the aesthetics of the farm from the gate.  Both Adrian and I are totally committed to making sure that everything we do, doesn’t have the affect of bringing down the look of the area, but to improve the lands aesthetic value by adding to it.  My creative side comes out, as does Adrian’s, and we are creating a place that people will want to visit and come back to.  It’s a beautiful sight from the gate when it’s all trimmed and tidy, and yes, I am totally, 100% biased!  I’ve always taken pride in my work!

So, onward and upwards.  There is much more still to do.  I look forward to giving an update again soon.  I also hope to give the idea of vlogging a go, although, my shyness does get in the way with that!  Thank you for following us on our journey.  Thank you for taking the time to read about what we are doing.

 

Obstacles

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.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Light SussexFirst of all, don’t panic!  This is NOT going to be some great philosophical debate about which actually did come first, more a personal account of my journey toward chicken keeping.  For me, it was the egg that came first.  Boiled and with dippy soldiers.  It was in the 1970’s for sure, and at a time when food still tasted like it ought to.  It wasn’t until the 1980’s that I started to notice the difference between shop bought eggs and fresh farm eggs.  The flavour and the colour of the yolk being so much better in a fresh farm egg.  At that point I went right off shop bought eggs, and have struggled to eat them ever since.

Saying that though, when we bought the land that is now known as Axe Head Farm, I wasn’t particularly excited about having chickens.  Perhaps all the years of shop bought eggs had clouded my view of them.  I knew that as a farm we needed to have chickens, but for me, they just produced eggs which were going to be the first product we could sell from the farm gate and build up some regular customers, and over time, we would add more products to sell at the gate.  They were just a way to get started.

When I started putting the posts and poles into the ground to make the chicken run it was without much enthusiasm.   Comments that came in from friends included: ‘Are you making a boot camp for pole dancers?’ and ‘I’m loving your post and pole farm!’.  The comments were more amusing than the job!  But, I stuck with it.  A farm was not a farm without chickens, right?

Quite a few months in to the process, and after returning to my work following a few months off due to injury and then breast surgery, I got back on with the run.  It was still without any real enthusiasm.  I decided that I needed to visit my friends up the road who already had chickens, to make sure I wasn’t making any great errors, and to see how they were set up.  It was late afternoon on Sunday 13th December 2015, with only 30 minutes of daylight left, that my love affair with chickens began.  Whilst I was visiting Gavin and Mandy, they decided that they need to move their electric fencing to give their hens some fresh grass to scratch.  As each new bit of grass was exposed, the hens went in to scratching mode and I was completely mesmerised by their cute little scratching dance.  It was after a good while that I realised that I should be helping them move their fence, not just stood staring at the wonder of seeing hens scratching about in the grass foraging for a nice tasty snack.

chicken run Dec15It’s fair to say, my enthusiasm for building the chicken run had been found.  By Christmas Eve the 6 foot enclosure of the chicken run was starting to take shape.  If I was sat reading you could be sure it was a book about chickens.  As a girl who likes to fix things I bought the Haynes Manual for Chickens, I bought eBooks about keeping chickens.  I read the magazines that Adrian had left laying around about chickens.  I researched the breeds of chickens that we might like.  I dreamt about chickens, and right now in the present day, about the only thing I post on my Facebook account is pictures of my chickens, or the eggs from my chickens.  I am now more than a little bit obsessed with my chickens!

As January 2016 was drawing to a close, the 6 foot enclosure was all but finished, and the first of the two orchard runs was finished, all but for the gates.  Adrian had done most of the research on breeds of chickens, and it was down to me to source some hens and make the final choices.  On one of our Facebook chicken groups we saw an advert for French Black Copper Marans by Guy Baldwin at Redruth Poultry, and as Joyce at Bubbles Laundrette in Helston had advised us of the merits of Black Copper Marans, we made our first order for hens. They hadn’t been on any list previously, but their colourings looked so interesting, and as they laid dark brown eggs, we added them in to the equation.  Through two other breeders we also sourced some Light Sussex, Welsummers, and Wyandottes.  We are still seeking some Cream Legbars and Lavendar Araucanas!

Wyandotte

So, why did we choose those breeds and not just start with some rescue hens?  Well, I guess the honest answer is… we made the decisions with our business head on.  Yes.  We could have spent less money on some rescue hens and have felt the feel-good factor for doing so, but as a business enterprise, we needed to think about the future of our flock and how we could actually make some money from the girls. The dark brown eggs from the Marans would look lovely mixed with the near white eggs of the Light Sussex hens.  The yet to be sourced Cream Legbar and Lavendar Araucanas lay eggs that can be blue, green or olive in colour.  The Light Sussex is also a good dual purpose hen, good at brooding, and could provide us with some chicks with the right cockerel to look after them.  With all the hens we could source arranged for collection on the 20th February, I had a deadline to work towards.  After all, at the point of ordering the pullets, I still hadn’t erected their coop, let alone finished the runs, built any gates, or even ordered the electric fencing!

Like so many of the jobs I’ve done since starting on the project of building a smallholding on bare, empty fields, it was another case of ‘I’ve never built a chicken run before’, ‘I’ve never built a chicken coop before’, and ‘I’ve never fitted an electric fence before’!  With the deadline fast approaching (just 10 days to go at that point}, I followed up on yet more of Adrian’s research. This time it was to phone and order the electric fencing.  I had a phone number, a name and no real idea of what I was about to order!

efd-logoThat said, when I made that call, I could never have imagined the experience I was going to have.  At first, it was all a bit intense.  Leslie at Electric Fencing Direct couldn’t locate the information on Adrian’s quoted price and I was feeling well out of my depth.  However, as the conversation continued, and from the print out that Adrian had left me with, Leslie and I managed to work out what we needed.  Of all the times I have had to part with hard cash for something to fulfil a part of this massive and expensive project, spending the money with Leslie was one of the easiest purchases I have made.  Leslie not only led me through the buying process, but was a mine of useful hints and tips on setting the run and the system up.  I came off the phone feeling safe in my purchase, and to be perfectly honest, like I’d made a friend.  If you need any electric fencing for any purpose, then I highly recommend Electric Fencing Direct (Click on their logo above to get straight on to their website).  It will undoubtedly be one of the best experiences of spending money you are ever likely to have!

chicken run under construction 2In the week leading up to the 20th February and our collection date for our hens, I had the company of our eldest son for the half term week.  Finn had homework to catch up on, and a computer to build, and no waterproofs to speak of, but still managed to fit in a little time to help me with the last of the jobs.  Without him there is no way I could have built the chicken coop on my own (there is a limit to what one woman can do, no matter how many sets of clamps are in her possession!).  Even on the day of collection there were still jobs to do!  Although all the fencing was up, one of the orchard runs didn’t have the wire stapled in place, there were no gates built at all, and I hadn’t even got to the point that I could put the electric fencing up.  When Adrian returned with the first 3 Light Sussex hens and the Light Sussex cockerel, all we could do was put them in to the coop and keep them shut in, which very handily, was exactly what we were meant to do!

Just after lunch on the 20th Adrian set off to collect 5 more Light Sussex hens, 2 Welsummers and 2 Gold-Laced Wyandottes.  I was still busily blocking off the gates in to the orchard runs and building the main gate in to the 6 foot enclosure.  By the time Adrian got to his destination, one Welsummer and one Wyandotte had been taken by a fox, so we ended up with two Blue Marans as replacements.  I had to go and collect the 9 Black Copper Marans myself from Redruth, but I was an hour later than arranged as I was still building the main gate!  We both got back at around the same time and put the rest of the girls into the coop with the cockerel and 3 hens from earlier.  As I was leaning in to the coop to open up the boxes and let the newbies out, I had the cockerel right in my face telling me to get the heck out. It was an exciting day in so many ways, but to hear a cockerel doing his thing was probably the memory that will last the longest.  Especially when he’s doing his ‘thing’ at you and right in your face!

All outThe next morning, all 3 of us were up super early to go and let the chickens out for the first time.  Nobody wanted to miss the culmination of all our efforts.  We did shoot some video of them coming out, but as yet we haven’t got round to editing and posting it on here or on YouTube.  We will get round to it eventually, but Mother Nature or some other factor, always seems to come along and change your list of priorities!

So, the chickens had arrived, but in truth, the actual run they are in is far from finished.  From the first night we put them in to the coop, until the Wednesday evening 4 days later, there was still no electric fence up to protect them.  This couldn’t be fitted until I’d put two foot weld mesh all around the 93 metres of the run and various other jobs had been completed.  For 4 days I barely left the hens.  Anyone who knows me knows that I would feel personally responsible for the deaths of any chicken killed by a fox if I hadn’t done everything in my power to protect them.  The Wednesday in question was also my 10th 12 hour shift in a row trying to complete the chicken run, and although I was seriously starting to flag come lunchtime that day, when a fox poked it’s head out of the hedge at the back of the orchard, my energy levels went through the roof and I ended up finishing the power connection to the electric fence in the near dark!

chicken run under constructionOur beautiful flock has now been here for 24 days and the run is still far from finished.  The main gate is still only half built and is held shut by two of my very precious clamps.  The run and the coop, with the chickens all tucked up inside, have also experienced 70 mph winds, and thankfully all survived intact and unharmed.  For me and the hens it was a very long night.  Although I was panicked that something could have happened to the hens overnight, there was absolutely nothing I could do until daylight broke.  When the first light was up, yet the winds were still howling around us, I was straight out to check on my babies.  We were lucky.  Our friends up the road, who’s hens had given me the enthusiasm I was previously lacking, had a much worse experience, with sections of their chicken shed roof coming off, a window being blown out and the door to the shed blowing open and the hinges buckling in the winds.

EggsAmazingly, in the 24 days that the hens have been with us, they have laid a staggering 139 eggs.  I say it’s staggering because, to be perfectly honest, we hadn’t expected a single egg for the first 2-3 weeks, giving them plenty of time to settle in here.  The 139 eggs does not include one that the first 3 hens and the cockerel were sent with, nor does it include any of the shell-less eggs that have been laid.  We have had about 6 mini-eggs, and one absolute whopper of an egg yesterday (top left of the 6 opposite!).  We’ve sold some of our eggs already, and from the feedback we’ve had from Mark Fletcher at Relish Street Foods, they are very well received by his customers.  We have used the eggs to make 5-egg omelettes, frittata, cakes and dippy eggs, and all it has done for me is remind me that I was absolutely right to go off shop bought eggs all those years ago.  Our eggs come with an authentic brown farmyard stamp, rather than the red ink of your shop bought eggs!

Chickens outIt’s also fair to say that the chickens have really added to my working day.  I’m the sort of person that really likes routine, and I enjoy very much that the chickens require my attention at various parts of the day.  At the beginning of this venture to build a smallholding, the thought of having to sit and watch my chickens for half an hour a day to check them over and get to know them, sounded a lot like a drag.  Now, going in and sitting with girls is a time when time simply slips away.  I could probably sit in with them all day and get to know their beautiful characters.  It is the case now, that whenever I walk between the caravan and the container in which their feed and grain is stored, they see me, the clucking begins and then they all run/kind of fly down to that end of the enclosure.  It’s a beautiful thing!  Opening the gate is an issue, as they are all there behind it trying to be the first at the food.  Walking down to the place that I hand-feed them their grain is also awkward, as they all know where I am heading and are running alongside, in front and underneath me!

So, along with finishing off the chicken run, I also need to get our gate farm shop sorted!  The signs are made, and thanks to the generosity of our friend Lorraine Field, we have some fabulous slates to use, a supply of off-cuts of wood, and the cutest little cupboard to do up and stick out in the parking area. This is great for me, as I get to do some crafty creating!  For me, that’s a win win win!

Eggs sign

It’s Marmalade Season – the taste tests are on!!

toast

I eagerly await January every year because the Seville Oranges arrive and it’s Marmalade making season. I hunt the aisles at the supermarkets for them with real anticipation, and frequently disappointment, it seems they are only in stock for a week or two.

Over the years I have made many marmalades and there is no doubt that home made is pretty much always superior to shop bought. There are loads of recipes, many different ingredients that all make nice marmalade.

But, after alot of fine tuning, I have settled on a couple of favorites, I have experimented with different sugars, different ways of cooking the skin, slicing the skins after cooking, or before (and during), including seeds and removing them later, removing them up front and different additional ingredients.

Now I am down to two recipes, and I suppose, in retrospect, it isn’t completely unexpected, they are the ones with the fewest ingredients (just 3) and the most ‘technique’.

Obviously, I wanted only natural ingredients, no funny chemicals so the three ingredients are Seville Oranges ( C9H13NO) , Lemon juice ( C6H8O), Sugar  ( C12H22O11 ). I don’t mind telling you the ingredients, but I’m not saying how I make it… I have to have some secrets! Oh, except it took me 7 hours to make this batch!

Anyway, as with all things these days, I want to sell this marmalade in due course and I know from experience, what I like isn’t necessarily what everyone else likes. I need some feedback, from special volunteers willing to expose themselves to danger in the interests of commercial endeavor.

If you’d like to volunteer, let me know and if we can, we’ll get a jar to you. Please just leave comments below. This is a thick shred, but I’ll be doing a batch of thin shred too.

 

2015 roundup.

Adrian here. I’m having a turn writing while I have a day off my day job!

MototrheadSo, Lemmy has died.

I first saw Motorhead in about 1983, it was a school trip. It was an awesome concert, a proper life experience. I firmly believe seeing Ace of Spades played live should have been on everyone’s bucket list, even non Motorhead fans.

I first took Finn to see them when he was 10 (to make up for a Bon Jovi concert I had taken him to that I didn’t think gave him the full concert experience) and this year me and Finn saw Motorhead again at the Eden Project. I said afterwards Lemmy was looking pretty frail and so it is both sad and a kind of relief he has passed. Sad that a legend has passed, a relief because a frail Lemmy is not what you want to see.

Lemmy lived life to the max, defying death since the 1970’s and is a great role model. I don’t mean a role model for for a drink and drugs lifestyle, I mean, if you are going to do something, whatever it is, go for it with 100% commitment and integrity.

2015 on Axe Head Farm has been one of ‘those years’. It’s been like we were being tested, to make sure we were 100% ‘in’ with commitment and integrity. As well as the tests, alot of good things have happened, I’ll list those first, to us it makes tremendous reading and we try to focus on them as much as possible.

trenchWe have had the official OK to stay on site while Di does the engineering and groundworks. While this is not in what you would regard as ‘normal’ living conditions, there are compensations, mostly the constant feeling of ‘I can’t believe it’.

Mains electricity and water is now connected. Phone line and internet is connected. The chicken zone is almost complete! The first polytunnel is largely built, with gratefully recieved help from our friends, and will be completed in spring with sprinkler system and lighting. Our orchard now covers almost 1 sq km and by spring will be larger still with many more apple varieties and other fruit.  Rabbit proofing the area designated for soft fruit and stock fencing the pig zones are scheduled for the new year so that they can start production (with electricity, we can now have freezers, electric fences, etc)

20150813_185149_resizedBut the resolve testing stuff has been ever present. The wind, rains and standing water hardly ever disappeared in 2015 making ground work tough. We haven’t been able to finish the track dug this time last year because it has been full of water for much of the year. The electricity, ordered in February took until mid November to be connected, and when it did, instead of the 50 meters of expensive earth cable we expected to need, a whopping 800 meters was required. The lack of electricity has had knock on effects in every way, but at least now, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched on!

Chicken RunIn addition, Di has been variously injured, mostly her wrist and elbow, but her CRPS has been issuing angry reminders that she is technically disabled and is only pretending to be well. And, she had to have some breast surgery in the summer, which required a recuperation period.

Having said that, Di is also the ‘force of nature’ that moves us forwards. She often ignores the pain she suffers and continues, despite my protestations. The upside of this, is that she has taken on many challenges this year that have been new to her. She has met every challenge and each victory has given her increased confidence in her abilities to meet the challenges ahead.

So, we are looking forward to 2016 with great optimism and confidence. This year we have learnt the hard way that ‘dreams’ are dreams because they are very difficult to achieve. If they were easy, they wouldn’t be dreams. We feel the biggest hurdles are… um, hurdled, although the track record suggests we just don’t know how big next years hurdles are!

Happy New Year everyone.

 

 

 

A busy few months…

20151119_160427_resizedAs you may have already noticed, it’s been a little while since our last blog.  There are a couple of very good reasons for this.  One is, I’ve been incredibly busy!  I’ll go in to that as the blog goes on.  The other is, there has been something of a power shortage going on at the farm!  Our power has been provided by a 6500 watt generator (as shown in the picture) up until the middle of November, when the said generator decided it had done enough powering, and was just going to make noises like it was making power, but not actually make any power!  So, that left us in a bit of a pickle.  Our friends lent us a 1500 watt generator to tide us over, but with an electric hot water heater that needs all 1500 watts to heat the hot water, we had to be very careful about what power we used, resulting in most things being switched off, powering up only our mobiles, broadband dongle, laptop for entertainment, and a rechargeable lamp!  No fridge/freezer, no microwave, no hot water!!  It’s been an interesting last few weeks…

I’ve included a picture of the generator as we’ve been in serious dispute with the manufacturer for the last few weeks.  They voided our warranty, stating that powering a caravan was not domestic use!  Go figure that one out!!  That, combined with the fact that they were sexist in their attitude to me (I’m sorry, which one of us two does all the construction, fixing, plumbing and electrical work? Not a good idea to be sexist with any woman in this day and age, but seriously… with me?), obtained our generator by deception (the collection and redelivery costs doubled between collecting the generator from us and then offering to return it to us), and the fact that their on-line sales material is misleading to say the least (the say the generator is ‘Heavy Duty’, but what they don’t say in any of their sales materials is… they just mean the ‘frame’!), meant we had a battle on our hands!  Two customer Service agents later, and a few emails copying in the CEO of the company, the matter has been satisfactorily resolved in our favour, but we had to cause such a stink about it.  My advice… if you are looking to buy a generator, DO NOT deal with the company that we bought ours from!

20151008_091759Getting back to why it’s been a busy few months, September saw me mostly recovering from breast surgery, and certain deadlines were looming as my recovery came to an end and the month of October began.  My first priority was to have the farm ready for the visit of Adrian’s mum and dad.  They live in New Zealand, and every time they come to the UK it’s always the last time they are going to come.  Something, however, always crops up and they come over doing a whistle-stop tour of all their friends and family over the course of about a month.  All they had seen of the farm were photos, so we were excited to have them come and visit so that we could share our vision of the future with them.  Mum has some mobility issues, and the stack of breeze blocks we had as our steps in to the caravan were not going to cut the mustard.  To be fair, we were also struggling to keep the mess down in the caravan due to stepping in straight off a muddy field, so it was decided that I would crack on and build some decking and steps with a hand rail now, rather than later as we had previously discussed.

20151010_182329So, with my clamps at the ready, I had the best fun playing with some wood!  I’ve never made decking before, let alone raised decking requiring steps, but that didn’t phase me much.  I believe wholeheartedly that if you believe you can, you can, and if you believe you can’t, then you are probably right!  I believed I could do it, so I just got on and did it.  The hardest part of the whole process was knocking met-posts with two foot tails in to ground that holds random chunks of granite beneath it.  On 5 of the 6 met-posts I got away with it, for the bad one I compromised, allowing the ground a small victory, and simply adjusted the length of the post to fit the frame.  I guess the moral of the story is… sometimes it’s okay to lose!!  With the frame built it was time to get the decking on to it and make some steps.  Mum had stated that her preference was for the handrail to be on the right hand side, and like the good girl I am, that is exactly where I put it!

20151019_170226

I’m pleased to report that the decking and steps were a complete success.  For the three days that mum and dad were with us, mum had not one single issue getting in and out of the caravan.  Dad even commented on how impressed he was that I built them myself.  That filled my heart with joy!  I’m immensely proud of all that I have achieved since we’ve embarked on this little project of ours, but to be honest, I am probably most proud of the decking and steps!  They have made a real difference to us too!  Whilst mum and dad were with us we used our 4-wheel drive to give them a guided tour of our land, and with both of us taking a turn in the driving seat, they got every detail of our plan and could see where things were going.  It also showed them the scale of the project quite clearly.  13 acres doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you get to drive around it, it shows that actually, 13 acres is plenty to be going on with.

Once the royal visit was behind us, another deadline was fast approaching, and it required my full and immediate attention as soon as I had recovered from the cold that hit me hard on the last day that mum and dad were with us.

When we bought the land that is now Axe Head Farm it had two poles on it belonging to Western Power, providing electricity to our neighbours.  A friend advised us that we could contact Western Power to negotiate over the poles and there being on our land.  The poles had a way-leave on them, but that wasn’t a contract with us as the new owners.  After checking this with someone from Adrian’s past who works in the legal profession, we were told not to waste our time.  Given who that person was, was just the incentive we needed to crack on and see how we got on.  After some stealthy negotiating and a long drawn out legal process, we were able to successfully negotiate a new deal with Western Power, and part of this new deal was to give us a very good price on getting two new poles and a shiny new transformer to provide power to the farm.

My job was to dig a trench 70 metres long and a metre deep, lay some ducting in the trench with a draw rope through it for the cable, erect a board to mount the meter box on and be ready for the power company to come and do the rest!

trenchIt’s fair to say, I love playing with heavy machinery!  What I love significantly less, is when the weather turns and the mini-digger ends up making a right old mess every time you manoeuvre it in to your next position for digging.  I had just two days of good digging weather, but as you can see from the photo, despite Mother Natures best efforts to ruin my work, I persevered and got the job done.  Getting the draw rope through the duct is another story, and proved far more difficult than I was led to believe.  I got there in the end though, because where there’s a will there’s a way!!  Oh, okay, so in reality, I hired a cobra reel sufficiently long enough.  The carrier bag tied to the rope and sucked through the duct by a vacuum cleaner was a massive fail.  There isn’t a vacuum cleaner in the world with sufficient suck to pull a rope and carrier bag 70 metres it would seem.

By the end of the weeks hire on the mini-digger the 70 metre trench was completed.  Thanks to the help of the Western Power team of Adrian, Eddie and Billy, the duct was laid out and the trench was partially back filled to keep the ducting down.  Once the draw rope was through another group of Western Power lads came and pulled the cable through the duct, and I was able to complete the back filling of the trench.  My part in the process was over.  All I had to do now was wait for the day that the transformer was to be attached to the pole and the power supply edged ever closer to the caravan.

20151117_114114It was with great excitement that we welcomed on to our land the team of lads that would come and fit our transformer, bringing not only electricity to our farm, but realisation to our dreams.  Since making the initial enquiry with Western Power to negotiate over their poles on our land in February 2015, we would finally see the results of those negotiations actualised in late November 2015.  What we could never have anticipated was the free upgrade on our transformer.  When we started the process off we had asked for a 15kva transformer to be fitted.  By the time they got the legal process completed, they had stopped installing that size transformer, so our shiny new one was a whopping 25kva.  Result!  That size transformer would see us able to move the farm forward on so many levels.  To us it was like it was Christmas Day.  Although, it didn’t mean we had power yet, we just had power getting closer.

20151117_135614As an ex-truck driver, one of the most exciting things that happened on that day, besides the shiny transformer being fitted, was the arrival of a Unimog to Axe Head Farm.  I was as giddy as a kipper as I saw it drive through our gates!  Admittedly, there was lots of other cool vehicles come on to the farm, but a Unimog… that’s a real result!  All the equipment that was on site that day, combined with the bad weather, meant that the land got pretty churned up.  This is where Western Power went above and beyond.  They left their JCB parked up overnight and the next day, the driver was back on site to tidy up the mess.  He also removed the stumps from the old poles, and as we were keeping the old poles to play with and they are quite heavy, he moved them for us to a place where we would be able to work with them, without them just being dumped where they fell.  It was well above our expectations, and most certainly given the mess, very much appreciated.  Thank you guys of Western Power.  Great job!

Our chosen utility company made an error of communication in early November, and that error was making it look very unlikely that we would have any power this side of the New Year.  With our generator out of action, December was looking like quite a bleak month for us.  As with our generator issue though, successful negotiations came about via our persistence, and we are now all powered up!  It’s taking some getting used to.  We call it our ‘silent’ power.  After 8 months without constant electricity, and the hum of an engine ever present when we did have it, we now delight in flicking on a light switch.  We realise that where we felt we were coping well with our power issues over the past 8 months, actually, we were merely putting a brave face on it.

On a personal level, and as the person that has been here 24/7 over the last 8 months, I wouldn’t change our experience and circumstances at all.  It makes you realise how we take things for granted when we have them all of the time.  Living without mains electricity, without mains water, and without constantly available hot water, has helped me to see the benefits that I had grown so accustomed to.  I hope that the memory will stay with me for a very long time.  That I will continue to appreciate it every time I have the luxury of flicking a switch for light, have constant hot water and can shower on demand, rather than by planning.  No, however hard the last 8 months have been, I wouldn’t change them and am grateful for the experience.  Easily said now it’s over!!

There goes summer!

20150813_185149_resizedIt has to be said, this summer has been one of the worst I can remember.  It felt more like October all the way through July and August.  Most days were spent in either the cloud, and I mean literally IN THE CLOUDS, or it was raining.  The weather, on its own, has seriously hampered our efforts in getting jobs done on the farm.  So much so, the farm track once more became a farm canal!

Once we had got the frame for the poly tunnel built, we realised that the wood for the doors and door frames, was absolutely soaked. We put it straight in to the container to dry out so that we could work with the wood.  Then, we realised that we didn’t have a flat surface to build the doors, but that would be rectified by the arrival of the chicken coop floor.  That also got absolutely drenched and the ply of the floor started to buckle.  That also got moved in to a container, once it had been dried out and treated.

20150822_142034_resizedWe had deep holes to dig for the poles to be set in for the 6 foot run around our chicken coop, and each time they were dug out, the rain came and dumped the soil back in again!  It has been a trying summer, with almost every job hampered by the weather.  I did end up having to rescue a toad from down one of the holes.  I checked them everyday for that very reason.  I tried first to see if this little fella would climb up the pole I’d put in the hole for him, but in the end, the only way to get him out was to don the gloves and lift him out.  I’m sure he was grateful, but he didn’t stick around to tell me just how grateful!

Then, some friends of ours gave us the biggest shock of the summer.  We haven’t got electricity still, running a generator to keep phones, laptops and the like topped up, and showering was reliant on the sun coming out and warming the water in the hose.  Of course, with no sun, there were precious few showers!  Trips to the local swimming baths were our only method of having a reliably warm shower.  Our friends gave us a cash wedding/anniversary present specifically to buy an electric water heater to solve our hygiene crisis.   The caravan came with a gas water heater.  A 14 year old water heater, that a Newquay based heating engineer wanted £800 to service and commission.  My Yorkshire pockets got instantly deeper and my arms instantly shorter!

So, we did a bit of research, about 10 days of research to be fair!  And then we ordered our 50 litre Ariston Velis.  The company we ordered it from stated it would be shipped from the UK.  7 days later it arrived direct from Poland!  It came with no template on the back of the box that the instructions said would be there for accurately marking the position of the mounts, a foreign two pin plug, and half the things needed to fit the heater were not included in the pack, including the mounting anchor bolts! Day one was all about cursing the company we’d bought it from and panicking about how to work round it all.

Generally, I make it a rule not to play with gas or electricity.  On this occasion, and having been hit with a quote of £800 by the gas engineer to sort the old water heater, I decided to make an exception.  By the power of Facebook, and then through Messenger, on day two, I learnt all I needed to know about electrics!  The foreign two pin plug needed a socket fitting in to the cupboard that the water heater would be mounted in to.  There was a 3amp fused socket that powered the spark for lighting the gas in the old water heater, but no actual socket.  The old water heater was wired directly in to the back of the 3amp fused socket!

20150827_152009_resized_3So, with the power of knowledge, day three was spent fitting a new socket in to the cupboard and upping the fuse in the fused socket to a 13amp socket.  I also managed to make my own template for the mounting of the water heater, and hey presto, by tea time we had the new water heater hung on its specially built frame to hold the weight of 50 litres of water, a plug to put the 2 pin plug in to, and a proud Di that this had all been done on her own!

Day four was spent on the plumbing, and the one bit that leaked consistently throughout that day, was the one bit that had arrived in the pack with the water heater!  Quickly, after dumping out around 60 litres of water all over the caravan floor, day turned to night, more research was done, and day five looked like the one that would herald the first use of the water heater.

20150829_182251_resized_2My first job of day five was to go and buy yet more plumbing parts, straight connectors, flexi-hoses and a pressure valve to reduce the water pressure going into the water heater.  Eventually, all the plumbing was connected and stayed dry.  The water heater was full and had stayed on its purpose built frame!  It was time to switch it on.  I ushered everyone, including the dog, out of the caravan.  Started the generator, went nervously back in to the caravan, flicked the breaker switch to on and then dutifully went to switch on the water heater.  It worked!  No massive spark!  No huge bang!  It just powered up and started heating the water… phew!

An hour later I had my first properly hot shower in the shower room of the caravan.  There were whoops of pure delight and ecstasy.  I’d only blimming well done it!  After I’d showered, Adrian had a go.  It was such a great feeling.  With the cash we’d been sent, we’d spent no more than we were given, and that was half the cost of the amount the gas fella wanted to sort out a 14 year old heater, but this one was brand new and I’d done it all on my own.  Fantastic!  Nothing could go wrong now, surely??  I stepped out of the caravan to celebrate my huge success…  I spot that the hose that carries the water to the caravan has sprung a leak!  I fix that, decide that I’ll go in and do the pots by boiling the water with the kettle whilst the water heats back up again, and the kettle explodes!!  There is never a dull moment here at Axe Head Farm, and sometimes I’m reminded not to get over excited by my achievements!

20150829_203304_resized_1So, we have hot water now when we want it.  We just have to run the generator for a while to get it up to temperature, but amazingly, the next morning and right up to lunchtime, the water in the tank stays hot.  Blinking brilliant.  We still have a host of half done jobs that had been waiting for the weather to change to get done.  The evening of our first hot showers, however, we were reminded of how stunningly beautiful Axe Head Farm could be.  Adrian spotted that the sky was looking interesting, so the three of us hot footed it up to the Axe Head field.  We could not have envisaged how all my hard work was to be rewarded.  Mother Nature put on quite a show, and I have to say, the photo here does not do the depth of the colour show justice!

20150830_151244_resizedOf course, when I assumed that was the end of my plumbing days, there was one more surprise that the caravan had in store for me!  I had instructed people previously not to use the hot tap on the kitchen sink, as it had a habit of being difficult to turn off again.  Now that actual hot water was running through it, it decided it was going to be near on impossible to switch off!  So, the next day, with sorrow in my heart, I once more glumly made my way to our local B&Q to buy a new tap.  Just for safety, I also bought two more straight connectors and a new pack of compression olives (well, a girl can never have too many, right?) and on arrival back at the caravan I set to the task of removing the old tap and replacing it with a nice shiny new one!  I had to use mole-grips to get the old tap off due to a lack of a tap spanner!  The straight connectors were essential, as of course, the new taps connections were shorter than the old ones!  But, I didn’t have to open my new pack of compression olives, result!  We had a new, none leaky, easy turn off and onable, shiny kitchen tap!!

Our friend in the village up the way told us that once the kids went back to school, the weather would change for the better, and he was right, it did!  Sadly though, this has not meant a return to getting the half finished jobs finished.  The day before our eldest started college, I was booked in for breast surgery to have a lump removed.  The lump was nothing to worry about thankfully, but I have the stitches to worry about now, and as such, I am currently unable to get on with my jobs.  We do what we can at the weekends, and I am limited to a purely supervisory role, but for me there is nothing more frustrating than having to be a good girl, especially whilst the sun is out and I could be getting things done.

I’m praying for an Indian summer, and that the good weather will last longer than my stitches!!  In the meantime, I can mostly be found either concentrating on my adult colouring book, or doing Kriss Kross puzzles to my heart’s content.

Completely Cuckoo… Cuckoo!!

Common-Cuckoo_NMIt’s only a couple of years since I last heard a Cuckoo cuckooing, but for many it’s a great many years.  I felt pretty honoured to have had the pleasure again and boasted about it on Facebook so joyfully.

Imagine the scene if you will.  Adrian has just arrived back at the farm from a week away working in London.  Our eldest, Finn, is down for three weeks of the summer holidays, and, we are all sat at the dining table in the caravan catching up on the news of each others weeks.  Suddenly, I see a bird of a peculiar shape and size, fly past the front window of the caravan.  I get up slowly and head to the side window at the hedgerow side, and there, sat on the fence of Bob’s dog pen, is that peculiar bird.  I beckon Adrian and Finn to join me slowly and quietly, and we are all stood wondering, what is it??

This peculiar bird was identified as a female cuckoo.  I believe that it was a fledge, as it’s feathers had that new look that only a fledge can have.  We were all staggered.  Seeing a Cuckoo is rare.  Far more rare than hearing one has become.  It felt like a real miracle had happened right before our eyes and we all felt blessed for the privilege.

Cuculus_canorus_vogelartinfoUnbelievably, it got even better than that!

So, the next morning we are all sat out in the yard, drinking coffee and talking about our plans for the day, when that same peculiar shaped bird flew out of our neighbours woodland, did a flypast almost right over our heads, before heading straight back in to our neighbours woodland again.

Twice!  We’ve all seen a Cuckoo TWICE!!!  Once on the Friday evening and then again on the Saturday morning!!!  Absolutely amazing.  Our neighbours have done a wonderful job creating a habitat for wildlife to thrive in.  For that, and the joy of physically seeing a female Cuckoo twice, we are tremendously grateful.

plaintive_cuckoo1

Summer at Axe Head Farm 2015

MizzleSo far, this summer has been a bit of a weather miss, as opposed to last years definite weather hit.  Most of July was spent with the farm sat in the clouds, and as we are only 174 meters above sea level, this was a bit of a shocker!  I’ve been reliably informed by an old school friend that lives in the village just up the road, that the weather will improve once the kids go back to school and the mass exodus of holiday makers has taken place.  Great!  I’m sorry folks, but if you wouldn’t mind getting your caravans hooked up, your tents packed away and your kids back to school early, that would be really helpful!!!

The biggest problem is not that the sun has not been out lots making me lovely and brown, but that our growth seems to be about one month behind everywhere else.  We were on our way back from Falmouth over the weekend, and couldn’t help but notice that the wild blackberries at the side of the road were much bigger than our wild blackberries, and more advanced, as they even had some fruits ripening.  It’s not just the blackberries.  Our apples are behind.  Our blueberries are behind.  The lavender is behind.  It made us realise just how important our poly tunnels are going to be.  So much so, I suspect we’ll be wanting more than just two as we move forward.

20150704_141436_resized_2Talking of poly tunnels, we have finally started the construction of our first tunnel.  The weather has been the main thing that has held us back.  Job number one of our construction process was digging 22 holes for the foundation poles.  Easy!  Oh, well it would’ve been without all the rain!  Digging nice clean holes in the rain is a fool hardy task.  You may as well just ask how deep you’d like your puddle!!  Anyway, by the middle of July we’d got them all done, the base plates fitted and the holes filled in again.

On the 19th July 2015 our first poly tunnel rose out of the ground.  Our army of helpers and working holiday folk got all 11 hoops up in a day!  It looked awesome.  Like we were creating the pyramid stage at Glastonbury or something.  All nice shiny metalwork stood tall and proud in the middle of our once ploughed field.  A 60 foot by 20 foot vision of promise for the future of Axe Head Farm.  It was simply mesmerising, and neither myself, or Adrian, could take our eyes of it.  Look at us!  We look so thrilled and happy stood beneath our wonderful hoops!  That evening Adrian set off back to London for another weeks work and all seemed well in the world!  Shame it didn’t last.

It would seem that there are some pretty glaring omissions in the instructions for building a poly tunnel.  Firstly, it seems putting all the hoops up the same way round is pretty important, but at no point in that pages instructions does it mention that one little point.  Not as a tip.  Not as a please note.  Not at all!  It took us a while to see that this one simple instruction could’ve been really handy.  Stuff wasn’t fitting as it should.  Eventually, once we’d worked it out, things started to fall in to place.  There were other mistakes along the way, but nothing that couldn’t be undone.

Poly Tunnel Framework

By the time Adrian got back from his working week, our band of merry holiday workers were all feeling pretty glum.  What we expected to take just 2 or 3 days, took us all week!  With the roof braces and twin stabiliser bars still to add to the tunnel, I decided to take the band of once merry holiday workers out for a day trip around Cornwall, leaving Adrian and Finn (our eldest) to put the last few bits of the poly tunnel on, before we started building the doors.  When we got back from our whistle stop tour of Cornwall, the boys had finished their bit of the puzzle and looked pretty pleased with themselves sat drinking beer and relaxing.  That didn’t last long either!  Our band of happy once more merry holiday workers went straight over to inspect their handy work, and lo and behold, they had fallen victim to the poor quality of the instructions also, and all but one of the fittings had to be removed and redone.

I guess the boys felt we’d set them up to fail by leaving them with the poly tunnel and them getting it wrong too, but they stood as much chance as we did of getting it right first time.  If anything, I think that their failure made us feel better.  It wasn’t just us!  I guess rubbish instructions for building a poly tunnel are less of an issue with an 8ft by 6ft tunnel, but when you are building something that is 60ft x 20ft in size, that is a huge number of corrections to make.  Especially when you take in to account that just putting the foundation posts in involved 22 posts, 22 anchor plates, 44 clamps and 88 bolts, and that was all necessary just to get the build up out of the ground!

20150722_054312Progress on the poly tunnel then fell away.  The next section involves building the sliding doors.  So, why the delay?  In order to build the doors, you need a flat level surface.  We have a once ploughed field to work on.  Doors being correct is pretty important to ensure they actually open and close!  We had a big problem.  Where on earth do we build them?  Then, with the aid of a good Cornish Ale, Adrian had a eureka moment.  We’d recently ordered an 8ft x 8ft chicken house.  It comes with a floor!  A nice flat surface to work on.

The chicken house was delivered yesterday!!!!  I’m hoping it’s build instructions are both clear and accurate.  To be fair though, being made of wood, it is much more within my skill set.  I’m good at woodwork.  Metalwork, not so much.

Of course, today its raining again, and, not because I don’t want to get wet or don’t have wet weather gear, it means work has stopped for the day.  It’s not just difficult to dig holes in the rain, it is also difficult to saw wood when its wet and its pretty dangerous to run power tools in the rain.  So, here I sit.  Writing a blog, sheltering from the rain and dreaming of the day our first poly tunnel is finished and the chicken house is erected.  Then work starts on poly tunnel number two, and the mother of all projects, our steel framed barn.

Finn tells me I might get some time off in December 2016.  That’s very nice of him, but in truth, I think it will be somewhere nearer to 2026!!!

 

Here comes summer!

20150619_101325As we move towards July and the height of the English summer(?) it is lovely to see the wildlife around us blossoming.  The Cornish hedges that surround the farm have changed their colours, from the Gorse flowers vibrant yellow, to the pinky/purples of Foxgloves and the like.  This seasons young fledges are now coming to the bird feeders we’ve put up, and are good healthy looking young birds.  The multitude of bites around my face and neck tell me there are plenty of insects around, and they seem to be the start of the food chain.  Swallows have been in abundance for a while now, as have the many types of finches most common to the feeders.  Buzzards are still frequent visitors, riding on the thermals above our fields, but over this last weekend we had the pleasure of watching a buzzard eat whilst sat in our field.  Stunning!

Our local friendly farmer has been in and topped all our fields for us and it’s always a moment we savour.  Once the grass starts growing, its speed seems to be at a rate of growth that is simply ridiculous.  As for the docs, they seemed to be up to four feet tall within a blink of an eye!  Our tractor mower was getting through it, but it was slow progress.  It gets to a point where you can’t see the hedgerows at the other side of the field!  Now it’s all been cut down, we should be able to keep on top of it and get new areas ready to go into production for soft fruits, some veggies, along with different varieties of garlic and some onions for pickling.  Adrian is extremely excited about this phase in our farms development, as this bit is most definitely his baby.  His absolute love of flavours and experimenting with food for pleasure, trying countless new recipes, make him the ONLY man for the job!

20150615_090836_resized_1Over the last few days we’ve managed to get the first few of 20 foundation poles in the ground for our poly tunnel.  The company we bought the poly tunnels from send a lucky bag out to you, and in it is a tea bag.  They suggest that you sit down with the instructions whilst drinking the tea, and then once the instructions have scared the living daylights out of you for the task you’ve taken on, they provide you with a couple of nice paperbacks about looking after your tunnel, and what to grow in it and when, etc…  In all honesty, Adrian and I didn’t need to look at the instruction manual to become terrified of the task ahead.  We just looked at all the parts and our fear levels rose!  Reassuringly, they tell you to take your time with this first part of the construction, and with accuracy being a key feature, it is definitely a two person job.  Neither of us wants to construct a poly tunnel that looks all wonky!

Due to our location and the amount of wind that hits the farm, we have chosen to put the poly tunnel up with Anchor Plates fixed in to the ground.  Until we started doing the first few foundation poles, neither of us could really understand why poly tunnels are classed as permanent structures when it comes to planning.  Now that we’ve gone through the process of banging in some of the poles and placing the Anchor Plates, we most definitely understand.  What we’ve actually done is bought ourselves one seriously cool Mechano kit!!  I loved my brothers Mechano kits, so now I’ve realised that’s all the poly tunnel is, I’m excited to get it constructed, and so is Adrian!  The inside of the poly tunnels and what gets planted in them is also part of Adrian’s baby/brainchild.

20150630_102626Beyond the construction of the poly tunnels and the ongoing maintenance of them, my only real addition to what’s growing inside the poly tunnels, are my Cornish Marmalade Orange Trees.  When we made the marmalade last year I harvested the seeds and have around 10 baby orange trees growing in the shower tray of the static.  I still have loads of seeds left and am getting a really good success rate.  It’s definitely a long term project, but if successful, it will see us growing our own marmalade oranges for our marmalade in 10 years or so.  We figure that no matter what pollinated the Seville trees that the oranges we took the seeds out of came from, the bitterness of the Seville will win the flavour battle, and we will still have good marmalade oranges grown from seeds in Cornwall.  Fingers crossed.

Adrian is a big fan of growing chilli’s, so I fully expect there to be all sorts of different ones growing in the poly tunnel.  Last year we made up some small pots of Chilli Jelly and Chilli Marmalade, which were well received by the people that got to try them out, so these will become regulars to our farm gate sales in the fullness of time.  I know there is other stuff planned for the poly tunnel, but I’m head of construction, animal husbandry, births, deaths and sh*t, so I don’t retain the information beyond my remit too well!!

It’s exciting here just now, even if progress is slowed due to me having had Tennis Elbow diagnosed for the right arm meltdown I mentioned in my previous blog.  I am constantly being torn between trying to get stuff done and having to rest totally.  Yesterday I tackled some of the ground works around the barn… today, I’m having a rest day.  I guess that’s going to be the way of it for a while.  A little bit of each job that is in need of my attention as and when I can, followed swiftly by rest.  So frustrating, for both of us, but if I am to build a farm, I need two good arms – minimum!

Peaches

Fire-in-a-Barbecue-Grill_New-Year-BBQ__IMG_5383-580x386So, tonight we are having a bar be que, with an old school friend and his family, who live in Carnkie, the next village along – they can see our farm from their house… so presumably, given I am writing a blog and not cooking,  they are waiting to see the smoke from the barby before they set off.

Anyway, Mandy is allergic to onions. This is a new one on me, and I had a hankering for Salsa, so I need a bit of inspiration. I decided to make my normal salsa, but replace the onions with nectarines (Yes yes, I wanted peaches, but there were none in the shop that looked nice). The Nectarines looked like they would be nice and chin dribblingly juicy, and it said, invitingly on the packet ‘ripe and ready to eat’.

They aren’t. They are crispy – and that may make then a really good replacement for the onions, but it’s made me think about food.

downloadPeaches and nectarines – the best go to the canning factories. The next best go to supermarkets on the basis they ripen over the travelling time to be softish at some point after you bought them.

The thing about these fruit in particular, is that sun is needed to turn the starches into sugars and make them sweet and juicy. Once they are picked, they pretty much stop sweetening and become flavourless shadows of what they could have been.

We will grow Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots.  I want to taste them at their best, ripe and juicy and straight from the tree. I read of people who have this experience, and they wax lyrical about the loveliness of the taste. I want it, and I want Di to experience it too. From there, I hope our crops will be sufficient to let Axe Head Farm customers find out what proper peaches, nectarines and apricots taste like.

There are many fruit and vegetables where we have forgotten the true flavours. This is because when supermarkets stock their shelves they have priorities.

The priorities are longevity first – the apple variety, Beauty of Bath ripens in July. It is awesome to eat straight from the tree and not much cop after about 3 weeks. Older folk will fondly remember this variety and many who taste it says it is the best tasting apple ever. Other varieties actually improve over the months after picking and are best 4 – 6 months after they were picked, even longer if they are stored in nitrogen tanks.

Guess which ones are in the shops? It’s not Beauty of Bath.

apples2Some apples grow on the branches of the tree, some grow on the tips. Right now, I can’t remember which, but for one of the types there isn’t a machine to pick them… so they aren’t in the shops.

Flavour isn’t on the agenda – longevity and picking easily, that is all that matters to supermarkets.

That’s OK, that gives small producers, like us at Axe Head Farm a look in. We can grow and sell the fruits and varieties that will blow your socks off for flavour. Beauty of Bath will be available in a few years, as will Orleans Reinette and Duchess’s Delight – all with flavours that may affect your buying behaviour at supermarkets.

Ooh, ooh, ooh… the funky chickens!

I’ve decided to take today off!  My body aches from trying to make 3 rectangles appear, with sticks to represent each corner, and to top that off, in a ploughed field… I will explain, honest!!  It’s taken me 3 days, and still only one of them is bang on!

FB_IMG_1433923554802Lot’s has been going on up at the farm this last month or so.  For instance, our first chicken house is being made as I type.  We’ve also now received our first poly tunnel!  That means I’m generally splitting my days between getting the planning map drawn on to a ploughed field ready to start erecting our first poly tunnel (hence my familiarity with parallelograms!), and plotting out the fencing in the orchard that will become our first two chicken runs.  Oh, and I almost forgot, spending some time most days cutting two foot high grasses with a tractor mower.

I have to be honest, all that I get to do each day is see what the weather is going to let me do!  It can often be the case that I sit here in hill fog (aka mizzle!), whilst most of the rest of Cornwall is bathed in glorious sunshine. The locals tell me that this area has its own micro climate, similar to Bodmin Moor, and it can be snowing up here, yet only 6 miles away in Helston, it’s a sunny day!

20150605_144502_resized_1On days that look good for mowing, it also looks good for getting some hot water to take a shower.  I’ve been staying up at the farm for a little while now whilst I’m working on the groundwork’s and engineering for the erection of the barn and the two poly tunnels, and with no supply of constant gas, electricity or water, it is an interesting existence to say the least.  Showering is only possible on sunny days as the water heats up in the hose pipe connected to the caravan and is bearable, but most often hygiene is a ‘Barnsley shower’, or strip wash!  Thankfully, as the evenings have improved in warmth, these are also far more tolerable.

I have two camping stoves for cooking and boiling a kettle, but only have an electricity supply when I run the generator.  Keeping food fresh is an issue, so I tend to live on veggie stir fry’s and cous cous.  Milk is long life.  There is no TV, not even a radio.  I think I’ve set the scene nicely!

FB_IMG_1433923902939Anyway, back to the poly tunnel.  I got a phone call from the haulage company to arrange to deliver the poly tunnel to us on Friday 5th June, a day that I knew I couldn’t off load the two pallets worth on my own, so I delayed the delivery until there was plenty of hands to whip it off the wagon.  It arrived at 5:30pm on Monday 8th June, thankfully a good couple of hours after the Webb’s and the Leaning’s had arrived at the farm straight from a music festival, to help make light work of it all.  There was 790kg to handball off that truck!  I think it’s fair to say that the driver looked pretty relieved there were so many of us too!

Now that the poly tunnel had been delivered, it was time to see how accurate our pacing out was.  We weren’t far out as it turns out, but when you are 2 metres short on the length of your barn, and you’re about to start erecting your first poly tunnel, you can be glad you’ve found out early on, avoiding costly mistakes and before creating gaps that are too small to use.

It turns out that it is much easier to mark out a parallelogram than it is to mark out a rectangle.  After a very painful day yesterday (painful as in ‘maths’ related!) and then towards the end of the day, this also included physical pain, I have one poly tunnel marked out that’s spot on, one to within 1/4 inch accurate, and a parallelogram still for a barn.  I could hear my maths teacher Mr Nock laughing at me for every time I’d asked him when he was going to teach me something that I would later find useful in adult life??  It turns out that the last 3 days is when I’ve wished the most that I’d listened more in maths and asked even more, ‘But, sir!  I just don’t get it??’.  Maths and I are not good buddy’s, whereas logic and I are!  Eventually I figured it out, without so much as an x,y or z calculated or considered.  Suffice to say, I’m as much having a day off from maths, as I am from having an achy body!

About a month ago we added an additional 22 trees to our apple orchard.  This involved my first lot of kneeling down.  Well, that and choosing the very same weekend to kneel and weed the Lavender and Blueberries!  It turns out that the one thing my ankle still can’t do is a lot of kneeling.  I can crouch for a fair old while, which I couldn’t do since the accident in 2011, but I hadn’t needed to do a lot of kneeling before.  I spent about two weeks unable to do much more than amble about the farm seeing to general chores, and that was after an initial week of barely being able to walk.  The CRPS kicked right back off again, and that meant rest, and plenty of it for my ankle.  Unfortunately, many of the jobs ahead require certain amounts of kneeling from here on in, so I guess I will be back to 3 days work equals 2 days rest for best part of the summer.

20150618_112111_resizedMy right arm is also in meltdown!  It has done so much screwing, sawing, hammering, post ramming and carrying, that it’s as achy as an achy thing!  I had a visit from the Planning Enforcement Officer the other day, and I advised that I was going as fast as I can, but most jobs are significantly harder with just one person to do them.  I have a pair of quick release clamps that, along with Bob, are my best friends up here on the farm.  Some jobs are near on impossible, but most often where there’s a will, there’s a way!  It’s blindingly obvious that some things are going to take longer with just one pair of hands, and something’s just have to wait till the weekend when there’s two sets of hands!

I’m not going to dwell on the planning enforcement officers visit.

Of all the things we’ve set out to do by the end of this summer, the one I am looking forward to completing the most right now is the chicken run, ready for the imminent arrival of the chicken house!  I always say ‘I don’t like eggs’, but in truth, I just don’t like shop-bought eggs that lack colour or flavour.  Soon I’ll have more eggs than I can deal with and I hope to sell the excess from our pull in area at the gate.  I’m excited about welcoming the hens to our orchard runs, and I’m equally giddy about having farm fresh eggs to be scrambling!

12ftx8ft-Ledbury-HouseOne thing I learnt whilst I was laid up by the CRPS kicking off again is that there is too much choice in chicken house manufactures, and this is difficult to research effectively with limited broadband, or on a mobile phone.  Furthermore, there are differing opinions, by different manufacturing companies, about what is good for the welfare of your chickens, and all this just adds in to the jumble of information you have in your head, and renders you completely incapable of making any decision at all!  Thankfully, we finally made a decision.  But, geez!  Never has a decision been so hard to come to.  We are both very excited to see the chicken run taking shape, and to see the chicken house set up within our orchard in a few weeks time.

The coming months are set to see the view in to the farm from the gate on Underlane change frequently throughout the summer!  I look forward to offering produce for sale from the gate too.  Eggs initially, but that list will grow as the months pass along.

All is good at Axe Head Farm and progress is being made towards our dream!

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!!!

Christmas through to Spring at Axe Head Farm

So, it would seem from looking at our post history that we blog, then we go quiet, then we blog again a few months later.  It may seem an odd situation, but most often the lull in our updates is weather related.

If you look at this occassion, my last post was at Christmas/New Year when I finished digging out our farm track.  Now I’m on-line again.  Why the delay??  Well, pretty much as soon as I finished digging the track it rained, pretty much constantly for 3 months.  My farm track became a canal and all the soil that had been banked up from the diggings was wet and heavy, so work stopped for a while.

20150307_172323_resized_1In the meantime, we’ve been planning for the next 12 months and thinking about where we would like to be by Spring 2016.  In the last month we’ve been able to get back on with the groundwork’s for the infrastructure of the farm. We’ve had a spring clean of the farm too.  I think we all enjoyed the spring clean a lot!  We had a great big fire with our boys to get rid of a load of branches that were cut down to get our static caravan on site.  Lots of the waste we found dumped in the entrance to the farm has now also made it’s way to the tip.  The farm looks so much nicer as a result.

The caravan also needed some help.  It had sat relatively unused all winter and had acquired a nice layer of black mould!  I spent two weeks up here sugar soaping and rinsing every inch of the caravan and then painted it in a neutral colour to make it feel fresh again.  Oh, and I also removed yet more of the ‘holiday home’ furniture and paraphernalia that is completely unnecessary for a farms restroom.  We still don’t have any water, gas or electric connected up, but we do have 2 litre pop bottles by the plenty, a camping stove and a generator, so we can make a cuppa, something to eat and even do the dishes!!  It’s all coming along nicely.

Car ParkIn the last month to 6 weeks we have been busy up here pretty much every day.  We have finished the car parking area off so that visitors have a place to pull in off the single track lane the farm is situated on.  We have also readied some more of the farm’s track ready to be finished of with sub base, thanks entirely to our lovely neighbours, Carol and Rob, and the 15 or so loads of rubble they provided us with.  Also, I’ve started the labourious task of shifting the excess soil that we’ve had laying around from the digging since Christmas.  It’s such an awesome feeling for us both to see things starting to happen again.

Now that we can receive deliveries up here easily it is time for Axe Head Farm to progress more quickly.  In the next few months we intend to build the first of our 4 chicken runs.  Treble the size of our orchard.  Rabbit fence our soft fruits area.  Build some composting pods.  Put in the first pig enclosure.  Get the ground prepared for the first of our two poly tunnels.  I’m pretty sure there is more on the list, but my brain has gone numb just writing down those few things!

So, the summer of 2015 is set to see us grow, rear and progress.  An exciting and exhausting time ahead, but that’s what we signed up for!  We already have a number of our friends coming to see us over the remainder of spring and throughout the summer, and I’m fairly sure that the changes since they visited us last year will be pretty BIG, even as early as next month.

I know I’ve said it before, but I love my job!!

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.

Christmas at Axe Head Farm 2014

IMG_1214As November 2014 came to a close and December loomed upon us, once more our list of jobs was reshuffled by Mother Nature.  Our land was becoming impossible to get on due to the rain we’d been having, but much work still needs to be done over winter for us to stay on target for Spring 2015.  We need fencing delivered, a poly tunnel, the steel frame for our barn, etc…  We couldn’t get two estate cars on and then back off the land easily!

So, and once again, something that hadn’t really featured at the top of the list of jobs, catapulted it’s self up to the top of the list.  We needed to construct a proper farm track now, so that the items we want dealt with by spring can actually arrive before spring starts and the fields dry up a bit.


I foolishly estimated I could do the job in a fortnight with a mini-digger and a 1 ton dumper truck, mostly on my own, underestimating how the Cornish weather was set to turn, and not in the least bit expecting the swamp I was about to create!  On Monday 8th December 2014 my Tonka Toys arrived one by one.  First the mini-digger… OMG… How intimidating did that machine look?  Foot pedals, levers, sticks and joy sticks and only the two hands for 5 gadget controls… YIKES!!  The chap that delivered it told me how it worked and then told me to jump in and have a play to get to know how the controls work.  Yes, I said, then as soon as he was gone I scuttled off and sorted out some other really important stuff!!

By 10:30am both the digger and dumper were on site and it was time to learn a new skill.  The dumper was much more straight forward, one lever for backwards or forwards, one foot pedal for acceleration, a handbrake, and two levers for emptying the bucket.  Simples!  I moved the dumper first.  Then I stopped for lunch!

After lunch I had to tackle the digger.  Oh my, I was kind of nervous and excited all at once.  Once I’d got it started I had a go at moving it around on it’s tracks, then had a go at moving the bucket around… Oh my, what a laugh!  Until I could remember which action performed which movement, with 8 actions available in two joysticks, the fencing nearby was in grave danger!  I reckon it was about an hour later when I actually tried to dig the first bit of the farm track!  Day one turned in to a bit of a disaster.  The bucket head that was on the digger wasn’t for digging, so I needed to change them over.  As I was wiggling one of the pins out that hold the bucket head on, the pin broke.  The hire company couldn’t get someone up to me with a new pin, so I parked up my toys for the night and arranged to go and collect one 7am the next morning so that I could just get on with my day.

It turns out that changing the bucket head of a JCB mini-digger is an art form to be learnt and mastered.  The cast iron bucket heads are quite darned heavy, so moving them to line them up is much less of an option, unless you are Hercules, which I am not, so I had use my visual/spatial awareness and hand/eye co-ordination to line up the holes… sometime later I was done and ready to dig!
In truth, it was actually after lunch on the second day before I started digging at all.  Progress was slow as I mastered the two joysticks for the diggers bucket head.  Accuracy was also an issue when emptying the bucket head in to the dumper!  I managed just 1 loads by 3:30pm.  I’d dug the equivalent of a garden pond!  I was drenched and freezing cold… I called it a day.

Day three saw me start digging by 9am and keep digging right through until 4pm. I managed 15 loads. I was so proud.  That meant in my first official full day of digging and dumping topsoil I was already at 75% of target! After a shaky start to loading the dumper I got in to a rhythm and the enormity of the task no longer felt beyond my ability.

The start of day 4 was also the start of the swamp.  It had rained heavy overnight and the tracks the dumper had made were filled with water.  Not only was the dumper truck slipping around in the mud, but deep ruts were appearing that were making the gateway between the first and middle field quite a fairground ride.

By the end of the first week I’d managed to master the digger and the dumper, and with only the weather to contend with, I’d made good progress.  Over the weekend at the end of that first week we discovered two things: Adrian does not have decent wet weather gear, and, Adrian’s BMW had a problem.  I mentioned a 4WD I’d seen at the garage up the road and so we p-ex’d Adrian’s BMW and bought a 4WD.  The irony of buying a 4WD as I’m a week in to digging a farm track is not lost on me…

I lost a day in week 2 due to changing cars and taxing the 4WD in a Post Office busy with Christmas post people.  I then lost a day when the dumper truck decided to break down with blocked fuel filters.  It soon became obvious that I was going to need both the digger and the dumper for an extra week, and with losing one day to a broken pin previously, I was now looking at packing up on the 30th December, just in time for New Year. I’d have to be there for the equipment to be collected New Year’s Eve morning, but then I could get home, have a lovely hot bath and start celebrating the festivities!

In week 3 I had Christmas Eve planned as off as I was going to pick up my friend.  We then chose to have Christmas Day off, and we lost another day to the dumper truck breaking down, so where collection should have been on New Year’s Day now, no one from Brandon Tools wanted to come out!  It turned out that after I’d rung about the dumper truck, the digger wouldn’t start, so I rang again.  It was the battery due to the very cold overnight temperature.  It played us up two mornings in a row, losing us two more half days.  We ended up working until dusk on New Year’s Eve, and despite great company, I could only stay awake until 10pm.

On New Year’s Day, my friend and I worked from around 9:30am to 3:30pm, with Adrian being there from late morning.  He brought us breakfast sarnies fresh from home, YUM! By 3pm the track was finished, or at least the digging of it was!  The dumper was washed and ready to go. The digger needed cleaning, but that could wait until the following morning.  It was time to park up the Tonka Toys and go home to a good meal, great company and a drink or four!!

For me, digging the track was more than just a job, but more importantly, a challenge.  A challenge to acquire the competency with a mini-digger to accomplish the task, to rise up to the physical challenge post-accident, and to prove to myself that I can do all of that, and I’ve done it!  I’m delighted.

So, what can you do with a frozen shoulder???

I realise that it’s been a while since I last posted to our blog, but for the last two and a half months I’ve been suffering with a frozen shoulder and that has seriously hampered my progress in building a farm.  This is very frustrating for me.  As many of you know, our farm adventure follows the three years I’ve spent recovering from a serious accident at work as a truck driver, where my strong bones didn’t break when they should have done, and as a result, I suffer with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) in my right ankle.  To have another injury that just wants to stick around has felt somewhat unfair, but I’m grateful that I do seem to now be on the mend!

DSC_0120In the last few months I’ve managed just a few small jobs.  Things like admin, label creation and erecting a bit more fencing and building another gate. More recently, however, I’ve also managed to do some work on the inside of our restroom static caravan. Putting a static caravan on a muddy field with carpets for flooring seemed a silly idea, so I’ve managed to rip the carpets up from the lounge/dining area and hallway, and I’ve replaced it with laminated flooring.

Faded carpetsAs you can see from the photo on the left, the carpets in the caravan had faded hugely, and by replacing them with laminated flooring we have made cleaning the floors so much easier with no power supply on the farm!  In the last two or three weeks we have seen the Cornish summer give way to a much damper and colder Cornish autumn. Being able to get in to the static to make a drink or eat lunch, without treading half of the fields in to a manky looking carpet, and, to be able to just sweep and mop the floors, is a much better option in this particular type of environment.  Bob, Bob the smallholders dog so far refuses to wipe his feet on the way in to the static, so it solves that problem too!  It’s also fair to say that pink is not one of my favourite colours, so reducing the amount of pink in the caravan is a huge relief to my eyes!!

IMG_2052As you can see from this picture, removing the carpets and putting down the laminate flooring has really brightened up the inside of the static.  Once you get over the humour of just sitting and watching Bob skate across the flooring, it seems a very practical solution to the problems of working in a muddy environment, and has most definitely made the interior look less tired than those poor carpets could manage! In order to allow the heat of the fire to move around the caravan, we decided it was a good idea to cut the door between the kitchen and hallway in half.  It also means that when Bob is super-mucky he can be kept to just the hallway, rather than redecorating the seating areas with his only particular choice of colour, muddy brown, without him being completely excluded from his pack!

20141123_120909At the same time as ripping out the yucky carpets, we also decided to rip out the rusty old gas fire, and have replaced that with a nice looking calor gas fire instead.  We were originally considering a log burner, but with health and safety at the forefront of our minds, we quickly ruled that out.  Although it would have been lovely to sit and eat my lunch in front of a log burner, I really didn’t want to have to maintain and clean it out in a tin box filled with highly flammable kindling for walls!!  All the work done so far is an improvement definitely, but as always with this project, everything costs three times more than you anticipate and takes four times longer than you believe could be possible.  If we’ve learnt nothing else so far, we have most definitely learnt that setting goals and deadlines is akin to setting yourselves up to fail.  Now, we no longer try to guestimate anything and just go with the flow and wait till the day we can say the job is done!!

IMG_1214With my shoulder well on the road to recovery, it is now time to get back to some of the outstanding manual labour jobs that I’ve not been able to spend my time on.  Access to the land has once more become a priority, as the wet weather recently has reminded us, water seems to hold in exactly the place we drive on and off the farm.  Although it’s not anything like as bad as the picture here from February 2014, we are slipping and sliding on and off the farm, and in reality, it’s only a matter of time before one or both of us has to phone one of our neighbours to come and drag us off the farm!  As an ex-truck driver who can no longer drive trucks, I am so looking forward to hiring a mini-digger and dumper truck and making the access good all year round.

With so many cool jobs to do, it’s fair to say that, despite the occasional negative, we are both having the time of our lives building our dream together :-)

Onwards and upwards as we move towards 2015!!

Pickled Onions – Feedback please!!

jars - pickled onions 1So, the first of the pickled onions have gone out to the first 5 or 6 lucky volunteers.  Here’s the place to add your feedback on them please :-)

I’ve tried the pickled onions from as young as 2 weeks old, right up to 5 weeks old so far and my delight with them has multiplied accordingly at each tasting.  In fact, if I’m entirely honest, I have never once in my life, before tasting these particular ones, gone “WOW!!!!” about eating a pickled onion!

Ma Garside is the provider of the recipe and for that we are eternally grateful.  Adrian gets to relive a particularly fond memory from his childhood, and I get to wow a pickled onion for the first time!  Thank you Ma Garside :-) xx

Please now leave us your feedback :-)  Thank you xxx

 

This following picture makes us so proud!  Thank you for all the wonderful feedback so far.  We have 4 more deliveries to make on Tuesday and then our 2014 Pickled Onion season is done.  Roll on 2015 😀

Feedback received 30th November 2014 via Messenger:

Pickled onion jar labels!

Jar Label Pickled Onions - Somewhat Perky copyI’m sat here at our Truro HQ feeling an unexpected and overwhelming sense of satisfaction.  Despite having to rest my arm and not be able to drive without pain, I’m achieving other stuff that I hadn’t wanted to sit down to do.  Don’t get me wrong, the list of manual labour jobs is stacking up, but I seriously underestimated what a relief it would be to get some of the admin jobs cleared away.

The absolute best thing I’ve done whilst laid up is put the finishing touches to our labels for the pickled onions that will be ready in 10 days.  If you’ve reserved a jar for the taste test your jar will be available very soon!

Please feel free to leave some feedback on what you think of our labels??

Right, what’s next???