When life gets in the way….

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There have been a couple of changes which explain my lack of posting lately, neither of them part of the original plan and both of them in the short term will complicate our lives rather than simplify it.

The first change is that Mr S has decided to start a micro business. I say a micro business as at the moment it is very small and in its early stages, however we are hoping and have plans for it to grow into something bigger in the long term.

The second bolt out of the blue has come in the shape of bricks and mortar. We had no intention what so ever of buying another house, however an opportunity presented itself which now means we are in the process of buying a second property.

The house in question was left to a family member and so we have had first refusal on it. It needs lots of hard work and a little money injected into it but will hopefully provide us with a rental income and an investment in the long term.

Our hope is that we can build on these multiple streams of income which would eventually provide us with enough income for Mr S to quit has job – this to us is our ultimate goal in self sufficiency.

So apologies if my posts are becoming a little sporadic! As Mr S is still in employment it will fall upon yours truly to organise and implement much of the above (besides running my own business!) Sometimes life just gets in the way of blogging 🙂

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Progress in the vegetable garden

Let me start by saying that I have the best husband ever (ok, so I might be slightly biased on that one 🙂 ).

Remember the shed that I included on my vegetable garden plans? Well it’s finished, built single-handedly by the previously mentioned wonderful Mr S.

At last no more hunting around the garden looking for my tools as they now have a home of their own.

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Elsewhere in the garden everything else seems to be making a late appearance this year as the wet start to the summer delayed progress. Unfortunately our apples and plums are virtually non existent as the rain stopped the bees pollinating early in the season but we do have a glut of beetroot and courgettes!

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Easy Orange Wine Recipe

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Thanks to Mr S there is now one area in our lives that we are completely self sufficient! Over past few months he has been in a brewing frenzy. Buckets, bottles and demijohns seem to be taking over our kitchen so last night as a reward for putting up with his brewing equipment taking over the kitchen space he presented me with a bottle from his first batch of orange wine.

Here’s the recipe he used – it should provide you with 6 bottles of dry white wine with a slight citrus flavour, cheers!

Here’s what you need to make 1 gallon of Orange Wine

1 litre White Grape Juice

1 litre Orange Juice, no bits, budget brands are fine but so is freshly squeezed

800g Sugar

1 tsp Pectolase

Tannin – 1/2 teaspoon or, make a mug of strong black tea and let it cool

1 tsp Glycerine (optional) -Glycerine gives body and mouth feel to the wine and makes it smooth

Yeast & Nutrient – You can buy the sachets of yeast or, pots which you would only use a teaspoon for this recipe. Not sure if the nutrient varies between brands but this brand uses 2 tablets crushed

Campden tablets – guard against infection and oxidation, you should use one per gallon whenever you rack your wine. Crush it to a powder between two teaspoons.

Potassium Sorbate or ‘Wine Stabiliser’ -This makes sure that no yeast can reproduce (this happens if there is any sugar left in or added to the wine)

Equipment

2 x gallon demijohns or, you could use 2 x 5 litre water bottles with a hole drilled for the bung

Airlock and rubber bung

Hydrometer and trial jar

Measuring spoons

Funnel

Meat baster (easy way of getting a wine sample out of the demijohn)

Thermometer

A syphon tube with a rigid plastic ‘racking cane’ and sediment cup

**All equipment must be cleaned and sterilised first **

Method

Boil around a litre of water and leave to cool (You will need this later)

Dissolve the sugar in 500ml water. It doesn’t have to reach boiling point but, will need to cool before putting in the demijohn

Pour the fruit juices into the demijohn

Add the sugar syrup, glycerine if using and tannin

Top up with the cooled boiled water to the bottom of the shoulder. (It seems like a large space but, initial fermentation can be vigorous, better to have a large space than it bubble over onto the floor)

Put your well washed hand over the neck of the jar and give it a good shake to mix everything up and to get some air into the must.

Check the temperature. If it’s around 25°C (give or take a bit), add your yeast, nutrient and pectolase. Cover and shake it again.

Fit the bung with airlock and put the demijohn somewhere out of direct sunlight, ideally with a fairly stable room temperature in the region of 17-20°C.

Now all you have to do is wait for fermentation to stop which can be anything from 1 to 4 weeks.

Racking

*Clean and sterilise all equipment*

Crush 1 campden tablet into the receiving demijohn then syphon

Put a well washed hand over the neck of this jar and give a gentle shake, ease palm away to release any fizz. Keep shaking and releasing until there’s hardly any fizz.

Add the potassium sorbate (wine stabiliser) as per brand instructions. (this will stop any yeast reactivating especially as you may need to back sweeten)

If needed, sweeten to taste using cooled sugar syrup then top up to neck with cooled boiled water.

Either use finings which will clear the wine quickly or, leave to clear of its own accord (this could take another couple of weeks) then bottle.

The wine can be drunk straight away but benefits from being left to mature.

Update on the vegetable garden

Due to last month being the wettest June in the UK on record and July following in the same footsteps it’s no surprise that not much in the way of progress has been made in the vegetable garden.

Thankfully, this weekend offered us some fine weather and a chance to carry on with our plans.

There have been a few alterations to our original plan – the main one being that we no longer need two sheds due to our garage declutter.

After looking around at the ready-made sheds that were available locally Mr S decided that he would have a go at making the potting shed himself.

He managed to complete the frame and base which will make up the potting shed and covered seating area, hopefully it won’t be too long now untill our garden tools have somewhere to call home!

Elsewhere in this part in the garden the soggy vegetable beds are starting to dry up a little. We have already had success with our potatoes, harvesting them as we need them to ensure that they are fresh and the quantity of strawberries has surpassed previous years.

We are currently picking a pudding basin full every other day, however due to the high rainfall they aren’t lasting very well once picked and so we seem to be having an awful lot of strawberry smoothies at the moment.

The other vegetables are slowly coming on but what they really need now is some sunshine to give them a boost – they’re not the only ones 🙂

Simplifying Finances

photo credit: Dplanet

The work to make our life simpler is no quick fix solution, we are in this for the long-term and recognise that whilst we have not exactly been completely committed to the end result over the last few years we have made great strides towards it by what we have done so far, the main thing so far being…

Simplifying Our Finances.

We have been quite lucky in that the both of us have a natural aversion to debt and have never run up huge credit card bills – if we want something we save for it and pay in cash.

The one exception to this though has been the necessity to purchase our house with the aid of a mortgage. We reduced this debt heavily by downsizing to the house where we now live. It has been hard at times, both with the amount of work and the conditions we have had to live in, however the pay off is that we have since managed to eliminate this debt completely through making overpayments and now own our home outright.

In paying the mortgage off it now gives us the knowledge that whatever happens to us employment and income wise we potentially have a roof over our heads and one less bill to pay at the end of the month.

Our other outgoings have room for improvement though! Utility bills, food and fuel can all be reduced and we plan to do so over the coming months by looking at what we use and what we can do to reduce the cost.

One of the biggest ways that we hope do this is by growing a large proportion of what we eat. We have been steadily increasing our productivity in the garden over the last few years and our aim is to improve on this from now on.

Tips to simplify your finances

Imagine how much simpler your financial life would be with no stress about debt. Becoming debt free is one of the most stress-relieving, life-simplifying things you can do. I know that everyone’s situation is different but here are a few ideas that we have found useful in simplifying our finances.

Plan For Upcoming Expenses – Plan and budget for large expenses such as Christmas and holidays. We find that putting away a set amount each month for upcoming purchases elevates the need for using credit cards to make major purchases.

 Buy A Smaller House – When you are looking to buy, consider buying smaller. One of the problems when buying a home is the temptation to buy more than you need. Just remember, the bigger the house, the higher the mortgage payments, insurance premiums, maintenance costs, utility bills, etc… Plus you’ll spend a ton of money buying more junk to fill the house.

Keep A Spending Diary – Each day, record everything you spend into a notebook. We have done this in the past and it has been really useful to pinpoint exactly where all of your cash goes. It also helps to keep you more mindful of what you are spending.

Get Organized – Keep things simple. Consolidate your bank accounts as it makes tracking your finances easier, set up direct debits for paying regular bills so you don’t miss deadlines and keep a note on a calendar when the ones that can’t be automated need to be paid.

Build An Emergency Fund – Few things give you peace of mind like having a stash of cash set aside for emergencies and unexpected expenses. Ours has saved us several times.

The Uncomfortable Truth

Sometimes you happen upon something in the media that makes you sit up and think and occasionally really rocks you to your core……that’s what happened to me today.

For a while now I have been thinking in detail about what I eat, I guess that when you are growing your own food this is to be expected. I have not eaten meat for nearly 25 years, not because I don’t like the taste of it but because of the issues with animal welfare. At the weekend I saw a piece on TV about the slaughter of male calves in the dairy industry and this led me to contemplate  adopting a vegan diet.

Whilst searching for more information about becoming vegan on the internet I came across the documentary “Earthlings”

EARTHLINGS is a powerful and informative documentary about society’s treatment of animals, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix with soundtrack by Moby. This multi-award winning film by Nation Earth is a must-see for anyone who cares about animals or wishes to make the world a better place.”

I wasn’t quite prepared for what followed and although I am quite aware of many of the topics cover in the documentary Earthlings has got to be the most important film I have ever seen. Yes it is shocking, brutal and very, very hard to watch however I firmly believe that every person should watch it, so that they are able to make informed decisions. The film offers footage that most people would rather not see, and rather not contemplate but if you are prepared for an emotional and intellectual challenge then you must watch it.

So am I changing my diet for a vegan one? Watch the documentary, I think that you’ll find the answer to that question there.

You can watch Earthlings online at http://www.earthlings.com/ 

Another Busy Weekend……hic!

It was Mr S’s birthday at the weekend and whilst he had decided that he didn’t want us to buy him anything in particular there is a hobby that he has been wanting to try for a while now – cider making.

So as a birthday present from the family he received all the necessary equipment to make his own cider. The first attempt has been made with an apple concentrate kit but it is Mr S’s intention to eventually use our own apples and there is already talk of nettle and beetroot wine!

Work in progress….

Hubble, Bubble……..

40 pints fermenting nicely!

Cider is our tipple of choice so not only is it hobby it also fits in with our self sufficentish lifestyle and hopefully over the summer months and the BBQ season should save us some money (if we can persuade our friends to drink it!). Luckily there is a home brewing shop not for from where we live and so we are able to get all the equipment we need to brew our own locally and cheaply.

Things have progressed in the veggie garden this weekend too. A couple more raised beds have been built and filled with soil which was moved from the orchard to be. The potatoes appear to be growing well and needed earthing up and we have got quite a lot planted – the sweetcorn and french beans have gone in and carrots, salsify, beetroot, peas, courgettes and spring onions sown.

Plotting and Planning Part 2

As the weather forecast for this weekend was looking good the plan was to make a start with the vegetable garden.

After pondering about what we needed and where everything needed to go we finally came up with a rough plan. The fruit trees and strawberry bed are already in place so we decided to use these as a starting point. After jotting down a list of everything that we wanted to include this was the rough idea of what we were working towards.

Our main considerations for the vegetable garden are:

  • Enough room to grow a good variety of fruit and vegetables. We have opted for a four bed rotation system plus beds for perennial crops (strawberries, asparagus and artichokes). In addition extra beds have been included for salad and seasonal crops.
  • A long bed along the length of the plot against the fence will allow us to grow a variety of soft fruit. We will most likely have to cage/net this at some point .
  • Storage and potting sheds – at present we have an old inherited shed which is used for storage of garden tools etc. This however has been patched and repaired within an inch of its life and it would be better if replaced in this part of the garden.
  • Chickens – The jury is still out here! We would love to keep hens however we also like to travel and I already feel guilty about asking family to call and feed our cat while we are away. The room has been left for a hen-house and large run while we think about this.

So, with this plan in mind on Saturday morning our first job of the day was to take a trip to the local timber yard to pick up the materials for the raised beds. We have opted for raised beds as the soil in this area of the garden is heavy clay. By moving some of the loamy soil where the orchard is to be planted we will have plenty to fill the raised beds and hopefully give our plants a good start.

We opted for 6 x 2 inch untreated timber to make the beds out of. Our previous beds have been made out of 1 inch thick untreated timber and whilst they are still going strong 5 years later by using 2 inch thick timber we hope to get longer still out of these beds.

Whilst clearing the ground we were joined by a few of the locals!

By the end of the day we had made quite a bit of progress however there is still some way to go…..

The jobs still to do are:

Finish the raised beds

Erect a fence to the field side of garden

Level and lay the paths

Build the compost bins

Put down bases for potting shed and storage shed

Build the sheds

Plant and sow the vegetables!

Plotting and Planning

The most pressing project to get done at the moment is to build the vegetable garden. We have a patch of land allocated which has been haphazardly used to grow our veggies over the past few years but this year we plan to grow much more and so a well laid out plot is needed.

Welcome to Steptoe’s Yard!

This is the piece of land that we have allocated it measures approx 7.5m x 30m and goes up to the far shed. Over the past few weeks we have cleared the logs and junk and between the frequent rain showers have erected a new fence between us and our neighbours. It now looks something like this,

A little better but still a long way to go

Looking back towards the house

A little better but such a long way to go! At least the fun part starts now – planning our plot and working out what and where everything needs to go.

A Bad Case of Cabin Fever

Like Henry David Thoreau I dream of living in a cabin in the woods.  You can imagine my delight when I stumbled across the Cabin Porn website whilst browsing the internet. (don’t worry about the name there is no nudity involved just lots of gratuitous shots of the most desirable cabins I have ever seen.)

These are just a few of my favourites.

Images from freecabinporn.com