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.
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.
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!
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.
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It’s amazing the difference the weather can make when you are smallholding. I can really see why sun worship has been so popular through the ages. Everything just feels so much lighter, hopeful and easier.
We had been meant to go away this weekend but due to family illness it was cancelled last minute. We put the change of plans to good use though. Friday we made into a Chi day. Trip to the local garden centre to visit the owl centre, look at plants and seeds, have ice cream and look at fish. Followed by a quick stop in some shoe shops to get me some shoes other than trainers that I can put on without bending and have a dinner out. Home with an exhausted Chi so time for a boardgame. Nice and restful with plans to get smallholding at the weekend.
Saturday started off with a smallholder’s club meeting. I’ll keep on saying that joining our local club was a really good move for us, being active in it has been even better. Sometimes you look at the long list of jobs you have and the forecast of good weather and think maybe we should skip it this month but it has always paid off when we have gone. It’s not just about the topic of the meeting (although this one was all about growing which was well timed for us as this year we are focusing less on livestock and more on growing). There is also a massive benefit to meeting other smallholders, making friends and getting ideas of how to set things up/fix things that you may not have thought of. If you are a smallholder and have a local group then I highly recommend joining it. I picked up a lot of tidbits at this meeting and of course there is always cake!
We grabbed some chips from McDonalds on the way home and headed straight outside. Sam got started on the compost heap again. The chickens now have free range of the land (which they love, although some still think the garden grass is greener) but it means they have attacked our muck heap and giant compost heap, spreading things everywhere. So we are using 4 heras panels to enclose the muck heap.
We would love to have a row of 3 or 4 neat contained compost heaps that we could use to turn the compost as it matures and keep things manageable. Unfortunately this year has a gazillion jobs we want to be doing so the muck heap is low down, we’ll contain it and just pile everything up. Hopefully next year, when we have the fruit patch contained and raised beds in the polytunnel, we can work on building some nice compost heaps. Sam managed to finish it and then he cleared out all the straw from the polytunnel from our lambing last year. We’re a bit behind on it I know!
Whilst he was working hard at that I attacked the beds again. I’m very against using products to kill the weeds. We aren’t registered organic but I really try to raise our animals and grow our crops with organic principles in mind, possibly too much so. Neglect over the end of summer, through autumn and winter meant that the thistle on our land moved into the polytunnel. We have beds of it. Some good friends cleared one bed for me at the end of last year but thistles are persistent. We had a slight problem with them last year but by weeding them pretty much daily, pulling the new shoots as soon as I can see them I managed to weaken the root system enough that over summer I had no problems with them at all. So I’m taking that approach again. Pulling up every thistle I can find in the polytunnel with as much of the roots as possible. It’s not easy as kneeling and bending are quite hard work for me at the moment but I think I am getting somewhere. I just need to keep on top of it. The beds are all a bit merged but we’ll sort them out once we get the sides on and manage to keep the chickens out!
Chi had some great fun feeding some of the flowering purple sprouting broccoli to the ewes, I think they enjoyed it too. Sometimes it’s the small moments, like seeing her barefoot, smiling and feeding sheep, that boost my confidence that we are doing something good for her here.
Sunday’s task was to be the fruit patch so we spent Saturday night going through all our notes from last year about the size of patch, the plants that are in and the distances between them. I have signed up to The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Planner. It’s a paid for service, although there is a free trial, but I really like it. I used it to plan the garden in Scotland but didn’t really follow up with it. It can give you updates about when to plant things, spacing and means you can go back and see what was planted where and when. I have one for the polytunnel and now for the fruit patch. I don’t think we will get anything into the outdoor veg patch this year, the covers can remain in place to kill the weeds for a while longer. You can see the fruit patch plan here.
Sunday morning we headed straight out. My mum came up and joined us for a few hours in the afternoon which gave us a bit more freedom to work as Chi played with her. We managed to plant 9 new bushes, giving us 9 blueberries, 8 gooseberries, 3 blackcurrants, 7 red currants and and 8 white currants. The garden centre we visited on Friday has some very mature bushes going very cheap so if I can get down there I’ll grab some to fill in the black currant and red currant gaps.
Sam worked on clearing the weeds from the weed proof fabric, I think we may need to put woodchip down over the fabric but the fruit patch is Sam’s part of the smallholding so he gets final say on everything.
Last year we were trying to improve the soil and thought we would cover the whole patch in a thick layer of manure. It didn’t quite happen but we did pull up a strip of weed proof fabric and gave a good foot of manure to it. That has rotted down now which is great but the thistles loved it! (Are you sensing a theme here?) So my next job on the fruit patch is pulling the thistles that are there, once that is done we will cover it over with weedproof fabric again and get the loganberry, raspberry and blackberry planted down that side. We are hoping as they grow they will provide a bit of shelter to the sheep (or anyone else) who grazes in polytunnel way.
It really, really feels as though things are moving in a positive direction on the holding. Of course it is April so we have had showers this week, limiting what I can do with Chi outside, but I managed to do another bit of thistle weeding on Monday and hope to do some more on Thursday. I’ve been using the rainy time to focus on getting the inside of the house under control (I am nesting after all) and had to do some pregnancy research in the evenings but I am hoping that tonight I will get some seeds in to trays inside and really kick our growing off. Better late than never hey?
Then it will be working towards making some raised beds in the polytunnel for my nice new seedlings to go into. It feels all go here at the moment, which is exhausting but oh so good!