Monday 30 September 2013

BBC "Inside Out"

The BBC programme following us for the past 6 months, "Inside Out", was broadcast tonight on BBC1. It is on iPlayer until 7th October and can be viewed here.

Our September newsletter

Our September email newsletter was published over the weekend. You can read it here. If you want to receive it directly to your inbox, email me at

Blackberry bonanza

blackberries Sept 13

The blackberry crop is usually guaranteed to give a good return. Brambles grow just about anywhere and they very rapidly colonise new ground. This year, the crop is about the best I have seen in decades. It is enormous! It is later than it has been in recent years but if you want a free source of food, get out there and start picking. Yesterday I picked elderberries to make jelly but I could see just how abundant the blackberry crop is. I'll be back to pick it later this week.

Potato pancakes

potato pancake Sept 13

I did not get round to making bread yesterday. The result was that there was no bread for breakfast this morning. Riding to my rescue was the humble potato. I have been planning for some time to make potato pancakes. The batter consists of finely grated potatoes, egg, a pinch of salt and a small amount of flour. This morning was an ideal opporunity to make one. It worked rather well.

I now need to experiment with recipes that include no flour as the main aim of using potatoes is to free us from having to buy flour. We are not in a position to grow our own wheat or mill it so this is something of a hole in our self-sufficient diet. With my historians hat on, I have done quite a bit of research on the British wartime diet when people were widely encouraged to use potatoes instead of bread and flour. If it worked then, it can work for us now.

Friday 27 September 2013

How to stuff a marrow

We have lots of marrows to use up at the moment and most will be used to make marrow chutney. However, some will be used for meals and in this video I stuff a marrow using breadcrumbs, bacon, pork fat, onions, tomatoes and herbs.

Thursday 26 September 2013

No firsts at the Bowes Show

Last year we won two firsts and a second in the competitions at the Bowes Agricultural Show i Co Durham. This year we entered more competitions but got fewer awards - this time a 2nd, a 3rd and a 4th. I think it was beginner's luck that did it for us last year!

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia - August edition

August was the month we set as our target date for becoming self-sufficient. It is also one of the busiest months of the year. Plenty to do - and we covered much of it in the programme.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Guest post: traditional orchards on estates

This summer, National Trust launched their 'Uncovered' campaign - over seven weekends, visitors to seven different properties get to meet some of their most prominent experts, and get involved in various events related to people's relationship with the landscape. One of the events will be held this weekend at Attingham near Shrewsbury. The programme of events can be found at

David Bullock, the National Trust's Head of Conservation, will be leading an event looking at traditional orchards. Below I have included a guest post from David looking at the importance of old orchards. And as an aside, I am hoping to set up a project myself soon to restore a derelict old orchard near my house in Sunniside - but more about that on another day.

You can find out about more "Uncovered" events at

The old orchards on the estate: David Bullock


I love old orchards. I love their blossom, their fruit, their cider and the honey from the hives. And, as Butler for the annual wassail in my village, I also love the rituals performed in orchards the depths of winter to ensure a good crop of apples (never works, totally silly but good fun...).

Backalong, there were old (or traditional) orchards on most farms and every country estate. The big house had ornamental and kitchen gardens, an orchard, parkland and the wider estate was farmed or wooded. The orchard and its products were integral to the estate. These days the orchards may still be there, and we recently ran a big project to restore or create orchards in England. So there has been a resurgence of interest in orchards but these days they and their amazing store of genes in their thousands of apple, pear and stone fruit varieties are often isolated fragments.

In the wider countryside traditional orchards are in real trouble. A recent Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust State of Nature Report showed how, between the 1970s and 2009, nearly 70 % of the county’s orchards had been lost. Why? Because orchards are often close to settlements on what has become prime real estate land. And we have to accept that not every one wants to drink scrumpy (and this is why we had cider apple orchards). But orchards are much more than just cider. They are part of a bigger picture of sustainable living, and a haven for wildlife, some of which is really special. More than any other Priority Habitat (“Priority” for being so rare and threatened), they are a living example of the triple bottom line approach (high economic, social and environmental values) all rolled into one small area of no more than a few hectares.
In my presentation I want us to work together on an example of how to realise once again that triple bottom line approach to traditional orchards. The focus will be on wildlife but that is just a way in. Join me in what will be a fun exercise with an appropriate prize for the group that presents the best sustainable solution to a restoration project for orchards in a landscape.

Monday 23 September 2013


BBQ Sept 13 1

For the past 6 months I have been followed by the BBC as I aim to become self-sufficient and produce all my own food. We reached our target of becoming self-sufficient on 1st August. The last filming for the programme was on Friday evening at the Whinnies in Sunniside, where my allotment is. I hosted a BBQ, using some of the food we have produced recently. Everything was locally produced until Jimmy, a fruit wholesaler and retailer, arrived with boxes of tropical fruit! Jimmy is also featured on the programme.

BBQ Sept 13 3

The programme is called "Inside Out" and will be broadcast on BBC1 at 7.30pm on Monday 30th September. It is a regional programme but will be available on BBC iPlayer after the broadcast. The producer and editor is Maggie Latham - in the pink jacket in the photo above.
It has been an enjoyable experience for me to be involved with the programme and I am hoping it will inspire others to grow at least some of their own food.

Today's trade

Hurrocks veg Sept 13

It's been a great day for trade for us today. The Hurrocks Allotment Association in Swalwell, Gateshead (my maran copper black hen won 2nd prize in their best hen competition yesterday) arrived this afternoon with a car full of the exhibits from yesterday's show. It included 4 gigantic pumpkins, marrows, potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips and so on. I paid for this delivery with jam, eggs and honey.

broad beans Sept 13

And this morning I went to Highfield, Rowlands Gill, a few km from my house, to collect a sack of runner beans and potatoes from the Gibside Allotment Association. This was what was left from their stall at the Gibside Farmers' Market yesterday. Again, I paid for it with jam, eggs and honey.

Swapping locally produced food is part of the local trading network I want to create. One of the biggest learning points for me since setting off on our journey to become self-sufficient is that it is nearly impossile to produce everything ourselves but there are some things we are good at producing and end up with far more than we need ourselves. There are very few local beekeepers and not too many people producing jam and preserves. So we use our jam and honey as currency is an informal trading system. The more people who become involved will mean more local produce will be produced. Instead of relying on supermarkets to provide all our food, we rely instead on the local community of food producers. It means better quality food, healthier lifestyles, less waste, less resource depletion, less pollution and it's cheaper than buying the food from commercial outlets.

Some of the produce will be used at our next Allotment Cafe at Marley Hill, Gateshead, on Sunday 27th October. It will have a halloween theme to it. Watch out for pumpkin soup and pumpkin pie.

Saturday 21 September 2013

2nd in the local allotment show

I don't have an allotment at the Hurrocks site in Swalwell in Gateshead but they did invite me to enter some of their competitions today at their annual show. I do some trade with the allotment association. Recently I swapped jam for some of their produce. Tomorrow they are likely to appear at my house with a tonnage of pumpkins and other produce which were in the show today and which will be swapped for honey and more jam.

Anyway, I decided to enter the best hen competition with one of my maran copper blacks. I'm pleased to say she came second. I have a rather nice certificate and rosette as a result.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Bringing home the goats

Last week we got our first two goats. I filmed this when we got them back home.

How to make rhubarb chutney

I recently picked our second crop of the year of rhubarb and made some of it into chutney. I used our elderflower vinegar (made from the elderflower champagne that went wrong). It will need to mature for a few more weeks. It goes well in cheese sandwiches.

Feeding the goats

goats Sept 13 5

I'm still learning about goat keeping but feeding our new arrivals over the past week has been interesting. We give them bran and bruised oats (and will soon add to the mix some flaked maize), hay and whatever tree leaves we can get our hands on. They particularly like browsing elder, bramble and hawthorn. We have about a month left to continue picking branches and leaves before the leaves drop to the ground. After that the goats will have to rely on our stocks of hay for their roughage.

The kid (pictured above) eats the bran and oats from my hand. The mother eats from the bucket but this allows me to handle her and get her used to me. They will do their first outing shortly. I will take them up to Dad's allotment where they can eat some of the weeds and brambles that need to be cleared.

goats Sept 13 6

goats Sept 13 7

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Starting to pick the apple crop

apples Sept 13

Last year we got no apples at all. We weren't alone. The fruit crop was dire in 2012. The rotten weather ensured that was the outcome. This year has been different. Though everything is later than normal, the fruit crop has, nonetheless, been a good one. We recently took over another derelict garden for the goats and on it is an apple tree which is covered with fruit. I started to pick the windfall apples on Sunday. These are eating apples. Some of the smaller ones today were used in making rosehip jelly. These are not the only apples we have. Recently a friend gave us a basket of cooking apples. There are many more apples still to come in so I'll be looking for some good recipes shortly.

Monday 16 September 2013

The chicks have started laying

eggs Sept 13

Good news from the hens. The chicks we hatched in March have started laying. The two I gave to a friend in exchange for fence material started laying last week. Of the two we still have, one laid today. The chicks are cream legbars and should lay green eggs but Freckles today popped out a cream coloured one. I don't know if this is a one-off or that she is always going to lay cream coloured eggs. We will get an idea of the colour she will lay permanently over the next few days.

The egg is shown above, one the left. I put it next to a medium sized egg to give an indication of its size. They should get bigger over the next couple of weeks.

The Self-Sufficient Challenge Day 46 - Stuffed Marrow

stuffed marrow Sept 13 1

Last week most of our meals seemed to be egg or bacon based but on Sunday I decided to use one of the marrows I had swapped for jam at our last cafe. Sliced down the middle with the seeds and soft flesh in the centre removed, I then filled the half marrows with a mix made from breadcrumbs, some of our tamworth bacon and fat (to stop it drying out), onions, tomatoes and herbs (oregano, thyme and sage).  It went into the over at 180C for half an hour. The stuffing came out a lovely golden brown.

For dessert today we had baked apples filled with sweet mince. The marrow will last for 3 meals, the apples for 2.

baked apples Sept 13

Thursday 12 September 2013

Our new goats

goats Sept 13 3

So here they are! Our two goats. A nanny and her nanny kid. We took the land rover up to the Borders to collect them today. They are now installed in a temporary paddock on the main allotment. They are a bit nervous at the moment and it will take a few days for them to get used to us. As soon as they are settled and used to being handled by us, we will take them to some areas where the vegetation is a bit overgrown and needs cutting (or eating) back. This is the start of a new adventure for us. I am really looking forward to learning how to milk them, make cheese and yoghurt and working out how to use up all the milk!

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Getting ready for the goats

Goat paddock temporary Sept 13

Yesterday we set up the temporary paddock for the goats and today I headed to a farm near Crook in Co Durham to collect 11 bales of fresh meadow hay. I did a swap for them: a jar of honey, one of blackcurrant jam, one of bramble jelly and one of green tomato chutney. Back on the allotment I used some of the bales to build the temporary goat house. The rest were stacked up on a pallet and covered with a plastic sheet.

Tomorrow, Thursday, we collect the goats. This is going to be quite an experience for us.

hay and land rover Sept 13

Above - fully loaded. Our land rover and trailer loaded up with hay for our goats.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Recent preserves

green tomatoes Sept 13

My recent acquisition of green tomatoes (swapped from honey and jam) resulted in another batch of chutney. 2.5kg made 9 large jars of green tomato chutney. It will be left to stand for a month to mature before being used.

green tomato chutney Sept 13

bramble butter Sept 13

Last week I made a batch of bramble jelly. The pulp left over was put to good use to make bramble butter. It is a beautiful dark red colour. 9 large jars were made. I will pick more blackberries shortly. They will be used for blackberry jam, hedgerow jelly and pies.

Monday 9 September 2013

I've been away

I've been away recently, hence the absence of posts over the past two weeks. I spent 4 days in Berlin and two in London. Back home here in Sunniside and my main activities last week were all to do with earning some hard currency - I spent four days doing the photos at a conference of statisticians in Newcastle and then two days writing a parliamentary campaigning publication I edit. And then I had, on Saturday, a couple of markets for which I needed to prepare. So, though the hard currency was suitably earned, it meant I have been unable to sit down and write about being self-sufficient. So, here's some catch up notes about where we are.

The self-sufficient diet has continued though obviously I was not eating my own food when I was in Berlin and London and at the conference I was well fed by the statisticians! We have however done quite a bit of trading over the past few days. Our half pound jars of honey are fetching a good price in terms of other people's allotment produce. As a result, we have a good load of green tomatoes and this afternoon they will be converted into chutney. We've also used honey to buy turnips, green beans, potatoes, courgettes, a marrow, a basil plant and onions.

I did manage to fit in one preserve making session last week. On Friday I picked a bucketful of blackberries. They are late this year but the crop looks a good one. A friend dropped off a basket of cooking apples for me so I used some with the blackberries to make bramble jelly. I still have the pulp left over and this afternoon I will make it into bramble cheese.

Unfortunately our cockerel Malteaster has died. This was expected. He had been fading away for a couple of weeks. On the next allotment, his brother is looking in excellent shape so we hope to get some fertile eggs from our neighbour. The hens we swapped with him a few months ago for fence material (along with the cockerel) have just started to lay. We are hoping the hens from the same batch we kept ourselves will start laying soon as well.

Our ducklings have decided to abandon the duck house and have taken to spending the night on the pond instead. I'm not happy with this as they are vulnerable to foxes if they choose to leave the pond. I have no idea why they have changed their sleeping arrangements but it has not been possible to get them into the duckhouse. Interestingly, of the 5 ducklings that hatched at the start of June, only one has turned out to be a drake. So hopefully our duck egg supply will increase on a few months' time.

Meanwhile, just before going to Berlin, I put the honey I harvested into jars. Here they are, in the kitchen at Marley Hill Community Centre where we run our Allotment Cafe.

honey jars Aug 13

And finally, we have had a delay of 4 days before collecting the goats. The person selling them to us asked to rearrange the date as they weren't available on Sunday. This was useful as it allowed David more time to build a cage inside our Defender and it gave me more time to create the temporary goat house on the main allotment. Their permanent home on the goat paddock will take a bit longer to create, hence the temporary run for the next few weeks. Watch this space for more news on them.