I’m keeping on my rose tinted spectacles…..

Despite the many hardships smallholders/permaculturists and those following their own path to self-sufficiency endure, it seems to me that there are far more positives to this lifestyle than negatives. Or maybe that is just because I really do see everything through rose-tinted spectacles and that’s how I enjoy living it?

It certainly isn’t an easy life or for the faint hearted.

Some examples: Well there is the lugging of firewood, the cutting, stacking and sawing that accompanies a life in a basic cottage where wood is the only fuel that heats your home and your water. Then there is the dusty job of cleaning out the stove/ fireplace, the making of compost, the baking of bread, cheesemakiing, brewing and fermenting food and drinks, mucking out animal housing, erecting fencing, growing food, walking to and from your paddocks daily, the carrying  and stacking of bales of hay, filling of haynets and hayracks, filling and carrying of water buckets and topping up of troughs, the carrying of hefty 25kg sacks of animal feed, much sweeping of yards, the heavy wheelbarrowing of loads of well-rotted manure onto veg beds, preserving your food and cleaning up your clothes and cottage interiors of all the hay and mud that seems to be the identity badge of the self-sufficient / small-scale farmer.

I have days when utter exhaustion wipes out any sense of wellbeing and enthusiasm, just like anyone else does, yet those rough days tend to be balanced out with far more days filled with pure joy at having witnessed something wonderful. Today it was the joy of seeing some jays, four of them actually, a bee fly and a red admiral butterfly on our walk back from the pony paddocks and at having achieved a long sought after goal or dream, like getting a long-awaited pre-loved, used polytunnel frame gifted to me!

I may spend my days covered in hay and animal hair now. I may not look smart or glamorous. I may even be considered scruffy by some!  ha! But it is the special moments that make it all worthwhile, ……moments such as when I am heading outside to milk one of my goats, Tansy…
I have dragged myself out of a warm bed reluctantly.( I love my sleep!)
I am alone.
It is very early in the morning.
The world is just waking up.
Birds in the surrounding trees and hedgerows are singing their uplifting good morning song and flitting from branch to branch, foraging for food. The moorhens that live on the river here, scuttle out of my wildlife pond and rush up the steep bank back onto their own territory, embarrassed at being caught out trespassing in the garden wildlife pond or occasionally a pair of mallards, that also often visit my pond, catch me unawares and fly up in front of me as I walk across the garden, making my heart leap out of my chest! haha!

Trout rise in the river taking gnats and other small insects from above the waterline, and then they are gone, as swiftly as the appeared, leaving behind beautiful reflective patterns made up of concentric rings, rippling outwards on the water’s surface, as they disappear into the depths again. There is so much that makes this life worthwhile.

I try to keep to a routine here at Riverside. Not because I am OCD about the endless jobs that need doing, far from it,  but because it makes everything run more smoothly. Animals get used to it and milking needs to be done at the same time each day anyway.

I feed Marigold first.. a scoop of goat mix , so that she can eat her breakfast quietly whilst Tansy is eating hers on the milking stand. Goats are not patient creatures and the sound of one eating, will undoubtedly cause the others to yell loudly, until they get some grub too. So Marigold is not made to wait. Plus I really enjoy the quiet time I get whilst I do the milking and contemplate the day ahead.

I then open Tansy’s little stable and she skips out and heads straight for the milking stand in the feed room. She hops up on her own and puts her head in the yoke and begins to eat hungrily. Goats are always hungry ūüôā I give a scoop of goat mix to her kids whilst mum is busy scoffing her own food…..and then I sit down beside her and clean her udders gently with the udder wipes.

Softly I lay my head against Tansy’s side and talk to her as I milk her, she tilts her head at me listening between mouthfuls, her cheeks bulging, her jaw in constant motion..chewing or cudding. We have eye contact..an understanding…. it is hard to explain. I tickle her tummy now and then, and she arches her back and goes all gooey eyed..she makes a mellow snickering noises..not quite a bleat, more a soft mellow purr ..Can goats can purr?…It is the sound of contentment. She knows she is loved and cared for.

Once I have finished taking all the milk I require, ( I leave some in her udder for her babies)  I thank her and offer her some sliced carrot from my pocket (You end up with pockets full of odd things when living a life-like this: baling twine, string, penknives, castrating rings, animal feed..even goat droppings! Don’t ask! lol). I unhook her lead from the milking stand and she slowly wanders back to her goat shed to be reunited with her babies. They finish emptying her udder out and then set about eating the Summer scented hay that I have placed in the racks for them. Water buckets are rinsed out and refilled. Then the poultry are all fed and watered. I have a stainless steel pail full of warm frothy milk to get inside, filter and cool as soon as possible.

Now this may all seem wonderful..but just imagine the same scene in Winter. It is freezing cold and very dark…yet all the above still has to be done daily.  In all weather. Buckets have to be plunged into icy water troughs to be filled. Ice has to be broken in order to get access to the water. Soggy mud underfoot means everything ends up with a liberal coating of dirt…..and no matter how careful you are, hay and mud ends up inside your house too!

I have come to the conclusion that you must either be eccentric, mad or extremely dedicated to want to do all these jobs with absolutely no break in routine. No holidays..No sick days…Not to mention the sheer effort involved in mucking out and any animal illnesses you have to deal with!…and on top of all that there is the ‘paid’ work that you squeeze in somehow! Often this is done in the dead of night when you should be sleeping or at weekends when everyone else if heading out on their jollies. So I am not sure which category you’d want to put me in?…. or maybe I am  mix of all three!  Eccentric, mad and dedicated?  Exhausted sometimes too …But I am happy  to work hard to keep the life I love so very much ūüėČ …and it is this life that makes my daughter so totally content, so desperate to learn more about the natural world….and I would do anything to keep that going for her. x

Tales from our River Bank: Ratty, Owl and Mole pay a visit.

It is 6:30 am. I have lit the fire and am now outside, alone in the garden, or so I think…..

I am heading towards the goats shed to do the morning milking, pail in hand, humming contentedly to myself, listening to the birdsong, breathing in the chill frosty air.

My daughter failed to rise with me this morning and is sleeping peacefully, snuggled up in bed under numerous heavy blankets and feather filled eider-downs, with the dogs at her feet.

I greet the goats with a chirpy “Good morning girls”. Then take a scoop of feed to Marigold (my pregnant goat). I then lead Tansy, my milker, to the milking stand that is set inside the warmth of the feed store.

I put her breakfast in the milking stand trough, she climbs willingly up onto it and starts to eat, noisily.

I wash her udders, talk to her soothingly and strip a little milk from each udder into the strip cup.. and then proceed to milk her properly into the pail. I listen to the rhythmic whooshing and frothing sounds of the milk as it hits the bucket. It is almost hypnotizing.

Tansy suddenly stops eating, looks up and stares out of the doorway ….and there, right in front of us, is a barn owl, swooping silently over the veg patch, then settling down to perch on the fence post that is barely ten feet from where I am sitting.

It has it’s back to us and it is seemingly unaware that we are there. I sit stock still hardly daring to breathe..and in seconds, all too soon, ¬†it is gone. Beautiful!

I smile and carry on milking.

Tansy settles back down to the serious job of eating. She finishes her rations in super quick time and becomes fidgety. I calm her with my voice but she is determined to make it known that she wants more food and so she bleats loudly in my ear, then nuzzles and pulls my hair. I cave in and give her another handful.

Eventually milking is completed. I wash her now soft udder and massage a little udder cream into it. I give her the carrot slices that I have been hiding in my pocket and lead her back to the goat shed, where her kids are waiting to finish emptying her udder.

I top up all of the hay-racks and water buckets for the goats. Then quickly feed the hens, quail, geese and duck. All done in super quick time, I take the milk pail back to the kitchen in order to filter and cool the milk as fast as possible, but as I do so I see a small mound of earth move on the riverbank, right next to a clump of snowdrops….

Suddenly a tiny black furry head and two huge feet appear in the centre of it.. then promptly they disappear again. A Mole!! That is a first for me, as I have never seen a live mole before, only the apparently undamaged carcasses, that my old cat Rosie used to present to me occasionally.

We have ‘trouble’ with moles here at Riverside. The riverbank is dotted with their hills and the steeply sloped bank is no longer is a smooth swathe of grasses and wild-flowers, but is instead a cratered ankle breaking, obstacle course! But to see a mole, a real live mole, albeit for such a brief moment, is a delight!

Indoors again now, hands washed and time to pour the fresh, frothy milk through a filter into a large milk jug. The lid is put on tightly and the jug is submerged into a deep bowl of icy cold water. The cold tap runs into the bowl and over the jug and overflows into the sink, acting as a make shift cooling system. It works fine.

Once thoroughly chilled, the jug is put in the fridge.1.6 litres of wonderful natural goat’s milk from this morning’s milking! ¬†Thank you Tansy!

I  top up the fire and make a cup of tea. My daughter is still sleeping and the dogs are now  fussing me for a biscuit, which of course they get.

I then sit down at the kitchen table to drink my morning cup of tea. I gaze out of the window at my bird feeder and there sitting on a hanging bird table, right in front of me, is a rat. Fat, brown and furry, with two black glossy bead-like eyes and small almost transparent rounded ears. It’s almost hairless tail is hanging over the edge of the tray. It twitches the tip of it now and then as it stuffs sunflower seeds into it’s mouth. I tap on the window. Nothing…..It simply looks at me. Haha! The cheek of it! Eventually it climbs down and picks up a few fallen seeds from the grass under the feeder and then runs off into next door’s orchard.

Now as much as I would prefer rats not to come here, and I am quite aware of the diseases they can spread, I still have to admire this little chap’s boldness and ingenuity. My bird feeder is metal and he has scaled a single, smooth metal tubular pole to get to the hanging tray at the very top. Quite a feat!

I think it is impossible to get on top of the rat population here. There have always been rats along riverbanks.  It is the perfect habitat for them, and although I do set traps and we do get owls hunting them here, there will always be rats where there is water. It is something I have learned to live with.

But I do not encourage them to come near the cottage or in the animals housing. All animal feed is locked away in metal bins. No food is left out.

But it seems that they have now learned to climb my bird table !  So what to do about that? More traps maybe?

It is now 8:30 am.Time to wake my daughter. I have Tales of the River Bank to tell her …..Ratty and Mole and Owl came to visit today ¬†ūüôā

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Have a great day!

Routines: The comfort and familiarity of them.

I always considered myself to be a spontaneous kinda gal. Not particularly organised. But the more I look at my life the more I realise that in fact it is full to the brim with routines and organisation.

I get up early every morning to let the dogs out. I am almost always woken by Tag, by whippet, tapping on my door. I then light the fire and put the kettle on. I get dressed, pull on my boots and  head outside to feed and water all the animals.

The goats need their hayracks filling up, fresh water in their buckets and a small handful of feed.They jostle one another in an effort to get the last few grains of goat mix from the bottom of their rubber trough. They always greet me with hungry bleats, as soon as I open by back door. Their bedding usually needs sorting out a bit and some fresh adding and the pathway in front of their shed needs sweeping.

Duck, hens, cockerels and quail all need their water drinkers filling and their feeders topping up. The hens flock around me as I let them out. Our black hen is the boss and she ushers the others away with nasty pecks and low croaky noises, as I scatter some grain for them to all scratch at.

The geese are called up from the river for their breakfast….. “Goose, goose, goose!” I yell down the riverbank……and they appear upstream paddling towards me as fast as their bright orange legs will allow them. They usually come up from their swim honking loudly. Squabbling over positions around their food.

Then once everyone is fed and watered I go and fetch in enough firewood to last the day. Now it is time for my second morning cuppa! …..and to wake my daughter up with one too.

I tend to make bread every other day. Hand kneading the dough and setting it aside to rise is one of the routines I really enjoy. It is therapeutic and relaxing. I knock it back, wait for it to rise once more and then it is ready to bake. If the oven is on for baking bread then I tend to make a stew or casserole or cookies or cakes too, that way I can make use of the hot oven after the bread has come out.

I tend all my cultured foods and beverages. My kefir milk needs tending every 24/48hrs, depending on what I am making.The routine of straining the curds and whey and hanging curds in scalded muslin to make cheese are now a regular part of my life. I make a new batch of Kombucha tea every 5 days. I feed my sourdough starter and my ginger beer plant (if I have one on the go).

ImageKefir milk/ curds/ soft cheese/ whey

ImageKombucha tea being made.. Ready to drink Kombucha in the bottle. The scoby can be seen in the jug.

I also cook for my smallest dog, Chuggie. He has to have special food, so I do it in batches, enough to last three days. He is on a special low purine diet, due to having inoperable porto-systemic liver shunt. I make him his own low purine dog biscuits too.

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The low purine biscuits I make for Chuggie x

I facilitate my daughter’s education. We home educate and although we do not have a set, rigid curriculum, we do find ourselves doing certain things at set times. In the evenings we almost always read. In the mornings my daughter works on the computer or on some art work, whilst I get on with other jobs. I am always on hand if she needs me.

Midday we eat lunch together and discuss anything relevant to my daughter’s project or we discuss current events that we have heard about on the radio. We have no live TV here. We don’t miss it.

We walk to the ponies every single day, usually with the dogs and in all weathers. We head to the next village with pockets full of carrots or treats. We are so lucky to be able to rent the land from a lovely neighbour. I clean the paddock, removing all the droppings.The ponies have three regular latrine areas so it is easy to do. We get a wheelbarrow load of pure manure everyday. We muck out the field shelters weekly as they don’t really get that dirty, but daily we check water troughs and top up hay racks and of course we scratch and fuss each pony in turn. Honeybee likes his bottom scratched and will wiggle it from side to side as your scratch it and if you should happen to be sitting on a fence rail or upturned bucket he will actually sit on your lap as you scratch him! It is lucky he is small ūüôā Bumblebee likes her withers ( the base of her neck, where it joins her back) rubbed hard and she will nudge you for more if you stop……and we always make time to give their soft velvet muzzles soft kisses. It would be rude not to!

I saw up my firewood by hand with a bowsaw and I split kindling for the woodstove with a small hand axe. My daughter gathers pine cones to use as firelighters too. It is hard work lugging and cutting wood and one of my absolute dreams is to have a couple of years firewood in a woodstore, already done.

At certain times of the year there will be routines that need attending to in the garden. Greenhouse plants require watering in Summer. We have rainwater butts next to all the buildings, which means we never use mains water on the plants. Seeds need sowing at varying times throughout the year, veg beds need weeding. The list goes on. It gets busy in the garden in Summer. But even in Winter there is still plenty to do. Today I have had to burn a huge heap of  ivy that was clambering over my cottage roof. There was far too much for me to fit it on my woody compost pile and I have limited space here. I also lopped off a lot of collapsed branches from the conifers that line one boundary here and I emptied out the shed that housed the billy goat that I hired to cover my two females. A stinky job!!

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I squeeze in my online sales, gardening jobs, dog sitting/ walking and occasional horse related work either late in the evening or on set days of the week. In Summer we get longer days and I can get so much more done outside. Luckily being self-employed means I can be flexible and I can arrange my ‘jobs’ around all my other stuff.

In Winter it is a bit quieter in the garden, so I get more time to be creative with crochet, knitting, baking, writing, festive gift making and my favourite:  READING!  We also play board games and watch dvds.

Life is FULL of routines isn’t it and the more I look at it, the more I realise how comfortable it makes me feel. We have a pattern to our day, to our week, to our year….. We work with the seasons. We are connected. After all nature has routines too doesn’t it. Routine makes the animals feel ¬†safe and secure. Routines make my daughter happy and content and I am pretty darn¬†happy too even if I am always busy……so maybe being spontaneous or anti routine¬†isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all ūüėČ