Last November, I found a tiny hedgehog wandering around the garden. At less than 300g, she would never have survived the winter. We took her in and she has overwintered in a special box in the pantry with her own personal heaters.
While the nights are still a bit chilly here, I have seen other hedgehogs out and about. Hoggy has also been very active of late, completely re-arranging her winter quarters every night. We decided it was time to release Hoggy back into the wild. The heaters have been off for the last week or so so she should be a little acclimatised to outdoor temperatures.
We had a hedgehog house set up under a bush and we stuffed it full of fresh hay. We also added some hay from her indoor bed so that she would recognise her smell. Next to it we placed a cat and dog-proof feeding station that I built years ago so we can continue to provide food.
In the early afternoon we took her out. Nicole did the honours, carrying her to her new home. We say “new home”, but there’s every chance Hoggy will leave and not come back. Like many wild creatures, hedgehogs don’t really have homes like us humans. That said, there are a couple of hedgehogs that nest under the pallets that support our hay, so maybe round here they like to have a nest.
Nicole introduced Hoggy to the tunnel into the hedgehog house. Hoggy needed no second invitation and was straight in. We watched her disappear into the bed area and said our goodbyes. We will be resisting the temptation to look in as hedgehogs don’t really like to be disturbed when they are sleeping.
We have set up the wildlfe camera to see what she does and will do our best to keep an eye on her, should she decide to stay.
Once a year, we borrow some cows from a neighbouring farm. We do these because they are good for the pasture. They eat out the long grass making it accessible to the sheep and their poos are highly nutritious from the grass.
Last year they managed to empty our entire field water supply twice in two days (see cows drink us dry). Since moving here, we have installed two underground tanks that collect water from hill streams and two water butts that collect rainwater from the field shelters. These feed a network of troughs, one per field. In total, it the system held about 2,500 litres of water.
“If we are going to get cows again,” I said to Mrs D, “do you think we should we install a large water trough for them?”
“Good idea,” she said.
I set about locating and ordering one. I found a large, galvanised steel trough that holds 545 litres. Just the job; I ordered it.
Then COVID-19 hit and delivery was slightly delayed. However, hats of to McVeigh Parker, it arrived Tuesday afternoon. After the relentless wet weather we have been having, it has been pretty dry of late. It only takes a couple of weeks without rain and the springs that feed the underground tanks dry up. I had to get cracking.
First thing Wednesday morning, I was hard at work. I had to level the ground where the tank would go. This is never easy. Also, this trough weighed around 70kg so I wanted to be moving it around as little as possible. With pick-axe and spade, I hacked away at the ground. Spirit levels were at the ready. I got it to what seemed level and put the spirit levels on it. Well, miracles never cease, it was level. I put the trough in place and it was level. I couldn’t believe it!
With the trough in place, it was a fairly straightforward job to unroll the pipe up the hill and connect it to the supply. Just a bit of adjustment to the connectors to ensure no drips and all was ready. I turned on the water (I fit isolation valves on all the troughs) and the water poured in. However, it stopped at about three quarters full.
Off I trotted to inspect the tank – no water was flowing in. Thankfully, there was a amall puddle at the intake point, the problem was the filter had become a bit blocked. I cleaned it up and water started to flow in again, albeit slowly.
Next day, I checked and the trough was full. The tank was only half full so I checked the inflow again. Clogged up again – this time I replaced the filter (just a plastic mesh) and left it to it.
Today, the tank was full and the spring was dry. I had installed the trough just in time to ensure a full water supply – now over 3,000 litres in capacity. It’s a good feeling to know we have plenty of water for the animals should the weather stay dry.
Our chickens have a large area in which they can roam freely. They share it with the sheep as the sheeps’ winter hay and main shelter are located in this paddock. At one end, there is a gate open to the fields. While this has been open for months, the hens rarely venture out. Occasionally, they have been seen just the other side but, as a rule, they are happy in their paddock.
That said, today the Cherokee the cockerel decided to go hill walking. He tried to take the hens with him but only two would go, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ) and Tina Sparkle. The rest decided to stay put.
Off the three went, up the path, over the track and up the hill. They followed the line of the fence right to the top where they found a gate. Well, an open gate is a temptation for most animals and these intrepid three passed through gleefully. They had a lovely time scratching around until one thought it might be a good idea to head back.
Down they came only to find that they had come down the wrong side of the fence. The gate was long forgotten. The three gathered together in the corner of the field looking wistfully at their paddock. However, a 3ft high stock fence stood in their way. Despite have wings and the capability to fly, this fence was deemed impassible. So, they set off along the lower fence of this hill field looking for a way through. When that failed, the worked their way back to the corner.
“I know what do”, said Cherokee , and headed up the hill. Only it was not the gate he sought, but a vantage point. “Cock-a-doodle” he exclaimed at the top of his voice. Tina and MMJ looked at each other with world weary expressions.
However, this “cock-a-doodle-do” was, in fact, heard by myself as I set off to walk the dogs. Not realising it was a cry for help, I simply congratulated Cherokee for his derring do as I walked past.
Nevertheless, knowing animals’ propensity for getting trapped in field corners, I decided to keep an eye on them. Even our dogs can’t figure out what do when they find themselves in that same corner. In fact, only the sheep seem to have the ability to work out how to get around via gates.
I alerted Mrs D and she thought it might be a good idea to lead them back. Off she set with some corn to lead them through the gate. The intrepid trio started to follow but, about half way up the hill, they decided they were going the wrong way and turned back down. They did not realise they were being rescued. MMJ lost patience and, without thinking, flew over the higher fence which was topped with barbed wire into the garden area. Observing this from the kitchen window, I headed out and picked up some tools and some wood. It was time to build an emergency exit. On the way, I shepherded MMJ back into the run via a handy gate. Not a cluck of thanks, mind you.
Arriving at the field corner, I knocked together a chicken door and installed it in the corner of the fence. Now, all they had to do was walk through.
But no, Cherokee decided that standing in front of it was far better. I headed off to make lunch. Mrs D tried to coax them through to no avail. In the end, she returned for a more tempting snack than corn – mealworms. That worked, Tina was straight through but Cherokee took his time before following.
By now the other hens had spotted possible tasty treats being dispensed and were on their way up. Thankfully, Mrs D led them all back to their run and all were able to relax.
Hopefully on future hen walks, they will be able to make use of the hen door.
We try to grow as many of the vegetables we eat as we can. However, in the last couple of years, we have been engaged in a battle of wills with numerous pests. We have managed to outwit the birds and the butterflies with netting, but the slugs still do a significant amount of damage.
Last year, we had to keep replanting. While the kale grew strong enough to cope with some slug damage, the rest of the crops that managed to get beyond seedlings fared badly. In the end, we rescue a few beetroot, a reasonable crop of turnips and some badly mauled carrots. There had to be a better way.
I had seen, on the TV, a programme about allotments in which carrots were grown in tubes. Nicole did some research and found that while this was possible, they could easily overheat on sunny days. The most promising solution was to build a box, fill it with sand and then bore out vertical tubes with a drainpipe. These tubes could be filled with compost. Undersoil slugs and snails would not be able to get through the sand thus the carrots should be safe. The sand would also retain moisture and stay cool on hot days.
The box itself was fairly straightforward to construct (see stopping slugs and snails). However, boring out the sand tubes was a bit more tricky. It was quite hard to get the sand to stay in the tube. Sometimes it worked, sometimes half of the sand fell out back into the tube. It turned into quite an art getting the tube the right depth. One trick was to push the drainpipe in and then pack the sand down inside the pipe. It took time.
Our addition to the design was to make “socks” into which the compost could go. By doing this, we could pull out the old compost each year and replace it with new compost. That’s the plan anyway. We used the sleeves that you can by for underground drainage pipes. These sleeves are built to let water through but not silt – perfect. They will also act as an additional slug barrier.
By putting the sock into a piece of drainpipe, filling it, placing the drainpipe (and compost) into the hole, the pipe could be slid out leaving the compost tube in place. This process worked well but was time consuming. It took hours to do all 36 tubes.
We haven’t planted the actual carrots yet – the weather is a bit frosty right now. We reckon they’ll be planted mid to late April.
Once planted, we’ll tie some carrot netting around the top to keep the more intrepid slugs and snails at bay. Once the carrots are growing, it will be fine to remove the netting. I’ll post updates as the year pans out so that you can follow the progress. Who knows, you may even be inspired to try this approach too.
One of the annual responsibilities we have as smallholders is to vaccinate the sheep. Each year, they get an injection of Heptavac. The interesting challenge is how best to do it without getting the sheep overexcited. We have, in the past, used sheep nuts to misidrect them while they are injected, but then the rest of the flock gather round barging each other trying to get in. Last year, in all the argy bargy, Ymogen suffered a broken jaw. This year, we were determined to avoid that kind of accident.
We also had to make sure the wiser of our sheep did not clock what was going on and keep well clear. Bluemli, particularly, can tell when we are up to something and will stay well clear of any pens.
We hatched our plans. First, all the sheep were gathered into the shed. This involved a little bribery in the form of sheep nuts. However, these were in a trough so they were all able to get some.
We built a small pen right outside the shed with a sliding door, well a sheep hurdle we could move out of the way, to let them in. They all lined up to see what we were up to (see picture). On opening the entrance, the first sheep obligingly stepped through. I held them tight while Nicole administered the injection. It went like clockwork. Each time we opened the pen, a sheep wandered in, got their injection and was ushered out into the paddock.
One or two sheep tried to play the bucking bronco card, but all in all it was very peaceful. So peaceful, in fact, that the vaccinated sheep gathered round to watch their colleagues getting injected.
All in all, it took about an hour do vaccinate our 19 sheep. We retired for a cuppa very pleased with ourselves.
Our heating runs mainly on wood. We have a woodburner which also acts as a boiler. This means we can get through a fair amount of wood each winter. In turn, this means much chopping of logs.
During the winter of 2018/19, a number of trees blew down in thw winter storms. These were gathered last spring and left in a pile awaiting action. So, in a break in the relentlessly damp, rainy winter, I blew the dust off the chainsaw, managed to get it started and set to work. The first task was to chop all the branches into log lengths. This always takes longer than you’d think, but eventually, the branches were transformed into choppable logs.
These then needed to be transported to the house about 400 meteres away. For this, I used the tractor – the logs were loaded into the front loader. The best part is that at the house, I could just tip them out (rather than manually unloading them).
That done, I rested a few days. It turned into a few weeks as the rain just kept coming. Finally, a dry day arrived. We share ownership of a petrol powered log splitter betweem three of the houses here. I got that out and set it up. Even with that, it took most of the morning to split all the logs.
I needed another rest after that which was a mistake because back came the rain. Thankfully, with spring approaching, drier weather was forcing its way through and a couple of days later, I got the wheelbarrow out and put the logs into the woodshed. They’ll be there till they dry out, ready for burning.
The downside is that I need to cut another two piles around the same size, so I will be coppicing some willow in the next week or so. In the meantime, I have planted around 1,500 trees so we should be carbon neutral.
We are pleased to announce that Adrian’s new book, “This Smallholding Life”. Drawing on the experiences of moving from suburban to smallholding living, this book highlights the highs and lows of this lifestyle.
Written as a practical guide for those thinking of making a move, it combines true life experience of smallholding life with practical ideas on what needs to be done and how to generate an income.
It is available on Amazon and also via our own shop.
While the weather has been generally mild this winter, we recently were hit by a sequence of storms, one after another. It got pretty windy at times.
The wind was so strong that it actually blew over a section of dry stone wall. This is the second time this has happened. The first time we could see that a post, next to the wall and tied to a nearby bush, might have been blown back and forth thus dislodging the stones. However, this section of wall was far from any trees or bushes. We can only surmise that it had become unstable. It is certainly an old section of wall.
Luckily, this week, we have had a few dry(ish) days. The first time this year that we’ve had more than one dry day in a row, or so it seems. Given there are sheep in this field, repairs were a bit of a priority. Not as urgent as it sounds as the field the other side is also ours. But sheep being sheep, the might try to climb on it while it is unstable. Doesn’t bear thinking about.
Nevertheless, I got to work quickly. With a collapse like this, all the stones are handily placed next to the wall which helps a lot. That said, they do need to be sorted and moved out of the way.
Once all the fallen stones were cleared, I could see that the wall had basically tipped and one side had completely collapsed. That meant I had to take it all apart almost to ground level. That done, it was fairly straightforward to rebuild it.
The top always takes longer though. As you get nearer the top, there are less stones to choose from. Also, they were quite big making them tricky to stack and heavy to lift (you really only want to lift them once). It’s also important to get the top stones lined up, otherwise it can look a bit shoddy. Towards the end, you spend more time thinking than lifting. Anyway, we are happy with the result. The sheep even came over to have a look!
Last year, we planted a lot of carrots, beetroot, parsnips and turnips (swedes to non Scots). As root crops, these are best sown direct as they don’t like to be transplanted. They all germinated quite happily, then it rained and the slugs and snails had the lot. We planted a second batch in pots and planted those out. The slugs and snails had those too.
So, we planted a third batch in pots and surrounded the seedlings with wool when planting them out. This saved about half the carrots and most of the turnips and beetroot. Only one parsnip survived.
What we couldn’t see is that, underground, the carrots were slowly being eaten away. In the end, the harvest was not only poor, it was time consuming cleaning, cutting and preparing what was left. They all went into soup.
There had to be a better way, we thought. Slug pellets are all very well, but they are not that effective and certainly don’t stop the undersoil pests. Nicole did some research and found what we call a carrot box. The one pictured right is such a beast.
On the first non rainy/windy/snowly/sleety day ths year, I fetched the power saw out of hibernation and got to work. I managed to build it just before the next sleet shower hit.
Now, it may just look like a wooden box, and, well, it is. However, the trick is to fill it with sand. Undersoil slugs and snails cannot get through the sand.
Once full of sand, the next step is to “drill” out holes with a drainpipe. These holes can then be filled with compost into which carrots can be sown. This can’t be done immediately. The fresh sand will be loose and unstable. So, we have to wait a few weeks for the rain to cause the sand to settle into a more compact state. Then we can get planting.
We’ll also tie netting around the top to stop slugs and snails cruising up the walls and over the sand to snaffle the young seedlings.
The net result is we’ll be planting fewer carrots but hope to get a bigger crop. If it works, we may build another one and, perhaps, one for parsnips too.
The box needed a lot of sand, by my calculation about half a ton. We had two large, half used bags of sand from previous projects and it looked like we’d have enough. However, we used it all up and although the carrot box looks full (see below), once it settles we’ll probably have to add more. Ironically, we’ll then be taking a lot of it out again to make the planting tubes. But, if it works, we’ll be very happy indeed.
Up until recently, the winter weather has not been too bad. It hasn’t been too good either, but from a smallholding perspective, it has been OK. By that, I mean it has been relatively warm. That means that the grass has continued to grow, albeit slowly. In turn, this means the sheep have eaten less hay which in turn has meant less work for us.
However, it has also been unrelentingly dull. Cloudy, damp days. That’s one reason there has been such a gap between blog entries, it has been much more tempting to curl up in front of the fire with a book.
In fact, I think we have had only two or three properly frosty days.
Lately, it has been stormy, wet and cold. Again, it’s hard to get much done when it’s blowing a gale and raining at the same time. The ground is soaking. At least, living on a hillside, we don’t get flooding here, but there has been a lot of standing water. The rivers have been raging too.
The last couple of weeks have brought some snow, but the weather doesn’t seem to be able to make up it’s mind, one minute it’s snowing, then it’s raining.
I think it’s fair to say the sheep have not been impressed by the weather. They have spent many a night sheltering from the torrential rain and wind in the shelter. While that keeps them warm and dry, they also get bored. However, they are not keen to head out into the hills when the weather is so bad. They just nip out, grab some hay and then it’s quickly back in to chew the cud. Nicole has, on occasion, also been giving them hay in the shed. They quite like that, eating a little before trampling it into the ground.
However, when the rain has eased off, they have been out and about. Selene is getting quite good at leading them off first thing and bringing them back around four in time for a hay top-up.
That all said, today it has cleared up and the sun is shining brightly. The wind is light. Bliss. I took the opportunity to plant some more trees. That’s about 450 this year, 250 of those being willow cuttings. I hope they grow strong and healthy.
It’s also the time of year to cut future firewood. We still have some tree trunks lying around from last year’s coppicing and they’ll be the first to be chopped. Then it will be into the willow wood to take out the damaged and fallen trees and maybe do a bit of coppicing. Then, we’ll see where we are. Hopefully in the not too distant future, some of the trees planted this year and last year will be ready for coppicing themselves.
Aside from that, Hoggy, our resident overwintering hedgehog is doing fine and blissfully unaware of the outdoor conditions. Her outdoor residence awaits, but it has been too cold to release her. In the meantime, she amuses herself by turning everything in her run upside down.