Tuesday 27 December 2022

The thaw


The great freeze that lasted over a week earlier in December has now gone. The great thaw produced little in the way of flooding as we suffered from frost rather than snow. The picture above is the last one I took before the that set in. The duck pond had about 5 cm of ice on the top of it. I appreciate lots of readers would laugh at 5cm, especially if they live in the continental USA or Canada but for us here in the North East of England are not used to bitterly cold weather.

When the pond thawed, the water level was much lower than we expected. I suspect we have sprung a leak. The pond itself is out of action at the moment as it is not in any of our runs. For the time being, all poultry in England has to be caged or in netted runs to slow the spread of avia flu. It will be a while before that ends.

Winter solstice dinner


Last week it was the winter solstice. The fact that daylight hours will start to get longer and night time shorter is definitely something worth celebrating. So our dinner consisted of pork (the joint was swapped with a friend) and roast vegetables, all locally produced.

Sunday 18 December 2022

The approaching thaw


I referred to an impending thaw in the weather in the post I wrote an hour or so ago. Here's the video I filmed down on the farm today in which I talk about the freezing weather and the that that has been forecast.

Bubble back home


A bit of a scare this afternoon. We found Bubble, one of our nanny goats on her side, looking as if she were in a death pose. We took her straight to the vet in Newcastle. Remarkably, she showed some recovery on the way in and she was able to walk into the surgery. The vet measured her temperature which was a bit low but otherwise she was fine. She thinks Bubble may have got cold lying down on her side and therefore couldn't get back up onto her feet. She is now back home and we have put her in our garage where she is warmer and we can keep an eye on her overnight. She has had a feast of carrots and hay and is enjoying having a blanket over her. We hope to get her back to the goat paddock shortly.

Waiting for the thaw


It has been bitterly cold over the past 8 days. The ground has been frozen solid, temperatures were rarely above zero and water butts and troughs have been constantly frozen. But it looks like this is going to change. Warmer weather is on its way. The thaw starts tonight and temperatures are forecast to be around 10C higher than we've experienced over the last few days. Thumbs up to that.

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Full English breakfast wartime style


With my historians hat on recently, I filmed another historical food video, this time on how to make a mock full English wartime breakfast with leftover potatoes, carrots, marrow, tomatoes, homemade baked beans and pigeon sausages. The above is the result. I will be editing the video shortly and will post it on here when done.

Sunday 27 November 2022

Hens in the greenhouse


I mentioned a day or so again that we have cleared out our greenhouse and added pullets to it. So here they are. There are three mother hens in there as well. I suspect in a few weeks that I will have to remove some of the birds as they are growing rapidly. Another chicken run will be needed.

Dust bathing


At this time of year we have lots of wood ash. Uses for it are limited. We have at times added it to the compost heap. We are planning to experiment with it to use it to make soap. But today I put a bucketful of ash into a tray in one of the henhouses so that the birds could do some dust bathing.

Leek and potato soup


Leek and potato soup for dinner tonight (and for the next couple days). We grew the potatoes (we still have about 2 tonnes waiting to be harvested) and the chilies. The leeks were from a friend. Great for warming us up on these cold, miserable autumn evenings.

Saturday 26 November 2022

Goat sitting


I am looking after the two goats Buster and Agnes belonging to my friend Steve. Sadly for Steve he has gone down with covid. The two goats are on the neighbouring allotment to mine so there is no great problem adding them to my twice daily feeding rota. They will however be moving soon to my farm.

Clearing out the greenhouse


I cleared out the greenhouse through the week. It was full of tomato plants there were too late in the year to produce any fruit. The tomato plants (see picture below) will head off to one of our compost bins. The compost they are in will be added to the top of raised beds. In the meantime, we have transferred all the pullets that hatched in the late summer from one of the chicken runs so that there is more space for each bird. By the time the avian flu restrictions end, the birds are likely to be fully grown!

Saturday 19 November 2022

Pigeon meatballs


We had lots of pigeon sausagemeat left over so we made them into meatballs which we casseroled. Very pleasant!

Pigeon toad in the hole


We still have lots of pigeon meat to use up so recently I minced the pigeon breasts and made them into sausages (I filmed a separate video on how to make them which will be edited soon.) The sausages were used to make toad in the hole. It went well with roasted potatoes and vegetables.

Saturday 12 November 2022

Making sure the hens are happy


We have about 50 sacks of leaves which we collected last winter. We were hoping they had rotted down but many of them are only partly rotted. So we are gradually putting them into the chicken runs so the birds can scrat through the leaves looking for bugs to eat and thereby imitating natural behaviour. It keeps the hens occupied and happy.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Being self-sufficient means turning waste into a resource


If you want to be self-sufficient, you need to turn waste into a resource. Take for example this compost bin. It is a reused paving stone box lined with empty animal feed sacks. The contents are the garden waste from the flowerbeds on Church Green in Whickham. I am one of the volunteers who helps look after the beds. In October all the old plants were stripped out and were taken to my farm. We filled 3 boxes like this. They will rot down over the winter and will be used as raised beds next year. No waste!

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Flockdown begins


We had been expecting it so it was no surprise when the government announced it: all poultry to be caged to tackle the spread of avian flu from wild (and particularly migratory) birds to domesticated chickens and ducks. This is now the 4th flockdown we have experienced and it means all our birds must remain until further notice in runs which are netted over. We had left most of the infrastructure of last year's flockdown in place, guessing correctly that the restrictions would be reintroduced. Nevertheless, we have more birds so another run was required. This was built up against the goat house on our Nearside plot. The goats were moved in the summer to our farm so the spare building was brought back into use.

We have no idea when the flockdown will end. The last one only ended in May and we are now heading towards a situation in which the birds will spend more time confined to runs than they will be free range.

Friday 21 October 2022

Egg shortage


For weeks now, we have been getting very few eggs. The ducks have given up completely and the hens have been laying 0 - 2 eggs a day (most days it is zero). Most of them have undergone a big moult so while they are doing that, their bodies are putting more energy into growing new feathers instead of producing eggs. We have managed to get enough eggs for an omelette which we had for dinner last night. But as we get further into the autumn, we have to accept that egg production is seasonal. It won't be until the new year when egg numbers start to increase.

Thursday 20 October 2022

On the Thompson and Morgan website

This blog is featured again on the Thompson and Morgan website. They have a promotion about cherry trees and they've linked to one of my posts about making cherry vodka and another about home to make rhubarb, cherry and gooseberry chutney. You can read the page on this link.

Another stuffed marrow


When you are self-sufficient, you get used to gluts. Marrows are the glut at the moment and we are gradually eating our way through them. This one is stuffed with tomatoes, breadcrumbs and cheese (which sadly was purchased in a local supermarket). The potatoes were grown on the paddock on the farm which previously had our friend Steve's pigs in it. The pigs kindly ate the weeds, turned over the ground and manured the site for us. Despite the drought conditions this year, the crop is looking good.

Stripped bare


I was greeted by this site recently on my Nearside allotment - where we keep most of our poultry. Someone had thrown in a cabbage stalk which the chickens and ducks had stripped bare, leaving this skeleton behind! Since then, the poultry have eaten the leaf stalks as well. Before this summer, the goats would have eaten the stalks but they were moved to our farm in August. There's a great deal of grazing for them there and the poultry and goats don't have to go into competition for the snacks that get thrown over the gate.

New wheelbarrow!


While others may get excited about a new car, we get excited about the arrival of a new wheelbarrow. This is one of those bits of kit which are essential in the world of self-sufficiency. I noticed just how reliant we are on a wheelbarrow recently when our old one broke and was unrepairable. Fortunately we got over a decade's use out of it, during which time it was used nearly every day. Let's hope the new one lasts even longer!

Piggy in the middle (flat)

This story rather amazed me. I read it this morning on the Chronicle website (for those not local to Tyneside, the Chronicle is the main daily newspaper here). Click this link to read the full story.

Basically, someone bought a couple of pigs believing they were micro pigs. They were kept as pets in a flat in Gateshead which they rapidly outgrew. How could anyone think it was a good idea to keep pigs (micro or not) in a flat or indeed in a house. Animals, whether they are pets or working livestock) have to be kept in appropriate housing. Keeping a couple of pigs in a crowded flat in an urban area is completely the wrong thing to do.

Thankfully there was a happy ending. The pigs have now been rehoused on a farm in Co Durham. But please think before you buy animals as pets - do you have the appropriate housing for them? If not, don't buy them.

Thursday 13 October 2022

Farm tour


This video was filmed while I did a walkabout on our farm and our 2 allotments. The farm was extended from a rather small 2 acres to a larger 17 acres in February so enjoy a tour of the land, our goat paddocks, sheep field, our potato field, our soft fruit patches and our chicken and duck runs.

Dandelions in October


Dandelions are abundant in the spring. Summer often brings a second wave of them. Once or twice I've seen them flowering in September. But I've never before seen them flowering as late as October - until just a few days ago. Strange times for our environment.

Thursday 6 October 2022

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia September 2022


This is my latest monthly self-sufficiency video for September 2022. In it we test out the new hay making equipment, we go to the Bowes Agricultural Show, we make more jam and we rehouse the chicks and ducklings.

Friday 30 September 2022

Grilled duck breast


One of our friends who helps at a local shoot gave us a couple of ducks earlier this month. So we had the breasts grilled with an apple sauce and roast potatoes. Very pleasant.

Potato soup


The potato crop is ready for harvesting and it is much better than we feared. We had been worried that the long period of dry weather would result is a low yield. It turns out that the lack of rain has not affected the crop. Anyway, this potato soup was one of our first meals from the new crop.

Tuesday 20 September 2022

Historic tractor parade


Every year the Bowes Show hosts a parade of historic tractors. The show on 10th September was no exception.

The Bowes Show


We made our annual trip to the Bowes Agricultural Show on 10th September. As usual, I had pies, flans, jams and so on for the competitions. I was very hopeful that my game pie would be a winner this year. Sadly, it wasn't but my fruit liqueurs and lemon curd all came away with certificates.

Carrs Billington had a stand. They quadbike they had looked very tempting!

Using the new hay rake


Steve tested out the new hay rake on our middle field recently. I'm glad to say it worked well, turning the hay and putting it into rows. What is left to try out is the buck rake.

Friday 16 September 2022

Sunniside Leek Show


I paid a visit to the Sunniside Leek Show last week in Sunniside Social Club. It reminded me that I need to check on our leek crop on our farm.

Tuesday 6 September 2022

New hay making equipment


The new land we bought earlier this year included a 9 acre hayfield and a 6 acre field which currently has a hay crop waiting to be collected in. We have bought a flail, hay turner and hay rake so that we are not dependent on contractors to cut and collect in our hay crop. Recently the new equipment arrived and we tested it out!

Sunday 4 September 2022

Blackberry and apple jam


I've been making jam again today. 17 jars of apples and blackberry jam. There is a big crop of blackberries so get picking everyone. Free food waiting to be gathered.

Cost of living crisis pushes us towards greater self-sufficiency


The cost of poultry feed has gone up 25% this year. We are already largely self-sufficient in feed for the goats and sheep but had yet to make the leap towards feed self-sufficiency for our poultry. The rising cost of feed however has pushed us to look into alternative, home produced feeds for the chickens and ducks. And so far we have successfully experimented with apples, rowan berries, potatoes and comfrey leaves. This video was filmed in the earlier part of the experiment before we found that it was better to boil up the apples and rowan berries. We have now slashed our poultry feed bills by half.

Saturday 3 September 2022

More jam


I've had a bit of a jam making week. These are the most recent to come off the production line: redcurrant and raspberry jam and crab apple jelly.

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Glendale Show


Yesterday we went to the Glendale Agricultural Show in Northumberland for the first time since before the pandemic. We had a great time looking at livestock and chatting to people about goat tags, mineral and energy licks, tree planting and what to do with all our wool. A good time had by all.

Friday 26 August 2022

Shepherd's pie - with a difference


This was dinner recently - shepherd's pie. It had one small difference with what people would expect in it. Instead of lamb or mutton mince, it was pigeon mince. We still have lots of pigeon breasts in our freezers so we are becoming more imaginative in how to use them up.

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Self-sufficient in Suburbia - February 2022


I am behind with my video editing but here is the February edition of Self-Sufficient in Suburbia. We had 6 baby goats born, the duck run was demolished and rebuilt and storms damaged on of the chicken runs but the most important issue was the purchase of the neighbouring fields, taking our smallholding from 2.5 acres to 17 acres.

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Self-sufficient in Suburbia - July video


My latest video from the world of self-sufficiency, covering July. We harvest our first hay crop. The goats and kids are on the move. The greenhouse is overgrown with nettles. The cherries are ready for picking. Ducklings have hatched. Lots happening.

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Experimenting with alternative poultry feeds


We are carrying out an experiment with alternative poultry feed. We are doing this for 2 reasons. Firstly, if we are to be genuinely self-sufficient, we need to produce all the feed consumed by our animals. Secondly, the price of animal feed has gone up 25% in recent months and we need to cut or eliminate altogether the costs we incur to keep our self-sufficiency project operating.

So we have made a start and tested out rowan berries, with mixed results, on the poultry. The video shows the results.

Monday 15 August 2022

Cod and chips


On searching one of our freezers recently I discovered some cod which we got from a friend, John, in a food swap. John had been sea fishing off the Orkneys last year so for a good quantity of jam, we got a good supply of cod. The one in the photo above, sadly, was the last of the fish we had, but it still made for an excellent meal.

Wednesday 10 August 2022

Baling the hay


I'm a bit behind on my video editing but I filmed this in mid July on the day our first hay crop was baled. We now have lots of feed for the sheep and goats to get us through the winter.

Monday 1 August 2022

Keeping the lane clear


One of our lambs is still small enough to get under the gate to our sheep field. She then does a good job of keeping the vegetation down!

Friday 29 July 2022

Moving the quail chicks


A few weeks ago, 11 quail chicks were hatched in the incubator. Earlier this week, we moved the 8 surviving chicks from the brooder box to the quail house, their new permanent home.

Tuesday 26 July 2022

At last the hay crop is in


Our new hayfield produced 840 bales of hay. It took us 9 days to collect them in and build 7 haystacks but today, the job was finished!

Thursday 7 July 2022

Jobs for July


We have lots to do in July, from sheep shearing to leek planting to raspberry picking and so on. They're all included in this video.

Monday 20 June 2022

Dealing with gluts


What to do with a glut of duck eggs and leeks? Turn them into a glut of flans!

Friday 17 June 2022

Nesting ducks

 We have 3 broody ducks at the moment. I discovered this nest a few days ago. Below the duck is on the nest.

We have one duck that's set up her nest in a pot next to the quail house. And it seems we have another duck nest, this time in one of the henhouses. Hatching is expected in early July.

Thursday 16 June 2022

More quail eggs


Egg production by our quails was quite low in the early spring, perhaps 1-3 a day. The moment we put some quail eggs into the incubator, the number being laid shot up to 5-7 a day. Excellent timing as usual! Nevertheless, we need new birds as the existing ones are clearly losing productivity. The eggs are due to hatch towards the end of next week.

Monday 13 June 2022

Potato planting


I am very pleased we put so much effort last year into planting so many potatoes. We are still using them up (see photo above of omelette and chips produced from our own supplies recently). Today however we have planted 20kg of seed potatoes. It is rather late in the season for planting but we still have more space for more seed potatoes to go in. 

Saturday 11 June 2022

Silage making


We have been experimenting with making silage. We filled a wheelie bin with nettles and grass, packed them down, added a bit of molasses and sealed the bin shut with duck tape. The contents will be left to ferment for 3 months and then we will see if our sheep and goats are prepared to eat the silage. If they do, we will judge the experiment a success and will make more so we have a supply of feed throughout the winter that avoids us having to buy in feed (which is increasing considerably in price).

Thursday 9 June 2022

Sheep shearing


It's that time of year - time to shear the sheep. We've made a start. We've managed to do 4 already! While that is a number a professional sheep shearer can do in a few minutes on their own, 3 of us - all amateurs! - are building up our skills and experience rather slowly. 

We still have 4 texels to do and then 9 Hebrideans. Then we need to sort what we are going to do with the wool.

Photo above - David with Rex, our texel ram, with his new short back and sides!

Wednesday 8 June 2022

First jam of the season


My first jam of the season was made this morning: apple, rhubarb and ginger.

Quail eggs into incubator


11 hen chicks hatched last week so the incubator is free to do another batch. This time 24 quail eggs have gone into it. We didn't manage to hatch any quail eggs last year so the birds we have are starting to show their age - they are quite unproductive and we are only getting at best 3-4 eggs a day. So new stock is needed.

Friday 3 June 2022



The new incubator has been in action - 11 chicks hatched (4 white leghorns and 7 Buff Orpingtons). We will give the incubator a rest for a few days and then load it up with quail eggs.

Thursday 2 June 2022

New boy in the run


I was contacted a few months ago by the friend of a friend who lives in Sunderland. She had a drake which she had raised from a duckling but it had outgrown their terrace house. Would I take it? I said I would but any movement would have to wait until the avian flu restrictions had been lifted. So on Sunday I drove over to Sunderland, worked my way through the one-way system and collected the bird. He's now with our flock of ducks.

Thursday 26 May 2022

New chicken run


I filmed this in March when the avian flu restrictions were in place. We built a new chicken run ready for the breeding programme in the summer. The run will be used for the Columbines, the hens that lay blue/green eggs. More runs will be built during the year.

Monday 16 May 2022

The currency of the future - duck eggs


I got these fantastic cakes on Saturday when a craft market was held in Sunniside Methodist Hall. They cost me 4 boxes of duck eggs - the new currency of the future! 

Wednesday 11 May 2022

A friendly pair of pheasants


A couple of pheasants have moved onto our farm. I assume they have arrived here from neighbouring Ravensworth Woods where shoots often take place. Apart from joining in the feeds for the goats, they aren't doing any harm. I have left them to their own devices.

Flockdown ends

 Flockdown - the restrictions on poultry to tackle avian flu - came to an end last week. For the first time in 5 months I was able to let out my poultry to roam freely.

Tuesday 3 May 2022

Moving the nannies


On Sunday we had to move our two nannies - Janey and Dolly - from the paddock on the Farside plot to the farm so that we could use the plot for our Rhode Island Red hens. Our poultry were due to come out of flockdown the next day - our name for the restrictions to tackle avian flu which resulted in the birds being caged for 5 months. This was the first time the two nannies would have encountered the Hebridean sheep as they were to be kept in the same field.

Friday 29 April 2022



It may be a lovely sunny spring day today but this morning there was frost on the ground.

Fish and chips


Self-sufficient fish and chips for dinner last night. The cod was from a friend who caught them while sea fishing last year. We swapped jars of jam for them. Chips from our own potatoes.

Thursday 28 April 2022

Another raised bed


Another raised bed set up on our Farside allotment and planted up with strawberries. That's 9 raised beds so far, made from old paving stones crates lined with empty feed sacks and filled with homemade compost.

Sunday 24 April 2022

The latest style!


There is a public right of way across the top of our farm. We have a responsibility to keep it clear and open for the public to access. Between fields 2 and 3 the style had collapsed last year and we dismantled what was left. This allowed people to keep using the footpath. However, we also wanted to bring the top of field 1 into use for grazing and then for cultivation. To stop the sheep wandering off into field 2, we had to rebuild the style. This was done last week and my thanks to our friend Steve for taking the lead in the rebuilding work. The style is now restored and we have moved the sheep onto the top of the field. There's lots of good quality grass there for them to graze.

Thursday 17 March 2022

Demolishing the old duck run.


We have made a start with demolishing our old duck run and cleaning the duck pond. There's still lots to do! Once demolished, we will build a new, bigger duck run.

Wednesday 16 March 2022

New duck run


We have been doing lots of building work recently. Recently, we decided that our old duck run was not going to hold together for much longer. So we have built a new duck run though the first birds we put in it were actually our Buff Orpington chickens.

Saturday 12 March 2022

Sunny days


We have had a few sunny days recently. That has meant our solar panels have produced more electricity than we used at the time. The surplus went onto the battery. We have to pay electricity and gas standing charges jointly of 54p a day. So, it was nice to see that overnight recently, we bought in only 6p worth of energy. Given the sky rocketing costs of power that are coming our way, the more we can generate ourselves, the better.

Our first job on the new land


Having recently acquired a further 14.5 acres to add to our existing 2.5 acres, we are finding all the small jobs that need to be done. The first is replacing the gatepost next to David in the photo above. The new post was ordered and has arrived. All we have to do now is dig out the old post, detach it from the fence and dig the new one in. A job for sometime over the next few days.

Frogs and toads


I paid a visit to our farm at midnight a couple of days ago (I was checking on one of our sheep - she was heavily pregnant). On the lane I found a frog and a toad, out of hibernation earlier than usual. I love having amphibians on our farm. They eat bugs that would otherwise eat our crops!

New sheep shelter


In November last year, Storm Arwen wrecked our sheep shelter. Last week, my friends Steve and John built a new one for me. All materials were repurposed. Alas, we are still waiting for the sheep to use it!

Incubators back in use


The incubators have come out of hibernation. The first eggs - 9 Buff Orpingtons - went into one of the small incubators yesterday. From now until the autumn, the incubators will be working flat out.