Category Archives: Challenges

Backyard composting by John Roulac

Hi, my name is Dans and I have a book problem. I buy a lot of books and I don’t get much time to read them all. My bookshelves are always overflowing no matter now many donations I make to charity shops. I have books on all the different topics that interest me, smallholding is no exception.

My smallholding book collection

Unfortunately not all books are made equal and there have been some smallholding books that I have opened with excitement, flicked through and never touched again. There are others that I reference regularly but haven’t ever read through cover to cover. I’d like to change that, partly because I need to clear space for more books by getting rid of the rubbish and partly because I do feel the knowledge would be better in my head than getting dusty on the shelf!

I’ve joined some facebook smallholding groups recently and a common post is one requesting book recommendations, either on a specific topic of smallholding or just general smallholding. I thought it might be useful for me do a little summary/review on here of the smallholding books I read, someone out there might find it helpful. I don’t promise there will be lots and lots. I’m trying to set up a smallholding, be a full time mum and housewife, have some time to pursue my non-smallholding interests (boardgaming and crafting), produce things to sell and grow a baby. This review may well be the only one you get this year but the intention is there!

So the first book was Backyard Composting by John Roulac. I think we picked this up from an elderly smallholding couple who were packing up. They were actually founding members of our smallholding club and got into it all in the smallholding wave of the 70s. I had assumed that this was quite a new book, it’s in pretty good condition and the cover art doesn’t seem dated but a couple of the projections of where we will be in terms of recycling by when made me check the date. It was first published in 1992 and my edition is from 1999. It seems to be out of print at the moment but there are second hand copies going cheap on amazon.

Overall I really liked this book. I’ve always been a bit stumped by composting and find I get sludgy bins with lots of fruit flies and smell, or dry bins with ants in. This book took the art of composting and made it really simple to follow. It gives you the complicated recipes you can follow but also reiterates that organic matter will compost eventually. I especially liked the troubleshooting section. I can see that being referred to in the future. It has a good mix of inspiration, information and practical guides.

A practical book

The other good point was the short sections. It really is a bitesize book. Not only is it under 100 pages from start to finish, but each section is only a few paragraphs long. Perfect for reading in short bursts which suits me these days!

Short sections

If you’re interested in composting and want a quick guide then I’d say give this one a try. There’s the basics of composting, recipes, specifications for different types of bins/heaps and a troubleshooting guide. The book may be older but it’s information still holds true. I’m certainly feeling more positive about composting after reading it. Next up will either be a book I’m pretty sure I don’t like (have a charity shop run to do) or one on polytunnel growing as I should really be getting going on the growing.

Dans

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Harvest challenges

Things have been busy here, we are well into the harvest season and I have to admit it is getting to be a bit of a struggle to keep up with everything! I do think we are doing better each year with the animals and growing, but there is still so much more we could harvest and could be doing with the land.

I’ve actually decided to join in with a challenge that I saw on another smallholding blog, Holding On 4. The aim is to harvest 5lbs of something each day for 50 days. It can be fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, well pretty much anything. On her blog she wasn’t counting anything that she was eating that day, but I’m not quite that hardcore. We are including things that we pick to eat or put out to sell but we aren’t including the eggs. I do find that it can be quite easy to get bogged down in the jobs that keep things ticking over, especially in the house, and leave things unharvested, so I am hoping that this keeps me going out each day. I started on Friday and smashed the goal with a harvest of 11lbs. 2lbs 10.9oz of cucumbers, 10.2 oz yellow courgette, 11.7oz green courgette, 3lbs 11.9oz of yellow plums, 1lbs 2.4oz of cooking apples and 2lbs 4.3oz of red onions. The next day we were away for the day so I only collected a few apples to take with us. 3lbs 11.1oz of Beauty of Bath apples. And today we were out again so we didn’t harvest anything at all.  14lbs 14.5oz over 3 days. Sam isn’t sure we will manage to have 5lbs of things to harvest each day, and days we are away it will be hard, but it’s a fun little challenge.

Speaking of daily harvests, we now have another incentive to get out and picking each day. We have started putting some of the veg out on the stall to sell along with the eggs. We haven’t had many sales yet, but I am hoping that, like with the eggs, it will pick up soon. We just need people to take a chance on us and then hopefully they will come back based on the taste. Our tomatoes this year are delicious.

Our ‘farm gate’ stall

I’ve set myself another mini challenge and this one might actually be achievable. We were getting quite behind on the harvesting and the fridges and freezers were filling with the things we had harvested. To work our way through I decided to try and harvest at least one thing a day and do at least 1 batch of preserving each day. That could be freezing if needed, but also includes dehydrating, jam, wine, chutney, juice, fruity spirits, or sauce. Last week I turned my hand to drying plums (purple and red) and tomatoes, plum (purple) and blackberry wines, plum brandy, blackberry rum, blackberry and plum jams, passata and a cucumber and apple chutney.

I spoke a bit about preserving last year, mainly saying that I hadn’t done much of it so far! We did a little bit last year but chutney and jam were still new to me this year. I was quite nervous to try them but so far they have gone down a treat with everyone who has tried them. I’m really looking forward to trying to keep up this harvest 1/preserve 1 a day, it’s making it manageable and keeping the gluts under control. I’m open to all kinds of recipes so fire away if you have any. Especially anything with cucumber that will keep!

Between all the harvesting, preserving, cleaning out sheds, getting set up to sell more complicated food items, and dropping my laptop (which means it will no longer run chrome for some reason) I just haven’t been able to come on here much. I am hoping that now I’m a bit more comfortable with internet explorer, I’ll be on more regularly. I need to update about the geese, and the chickens, and all the things we are growing.

Dans