Category Archives: General Info

Information about the environment, ecology, wildlife etc.

Goodbye Summer 2013

We’re full swing into a bumper harvest season, with LOTS of apples to process, jams & chutneys to make and veg to store, not to mention some pretty big DIY projects in the house, so we don’t have much time for updates. So here are some highlights of the summer just passed (and there’s a new baby album in the photo gallery for those who are interested). Happy autumn to you all!

Plum and Peach (two pigs born at Penybanc!) competing at the Royal Welsh Show


Our haul of potatoes!




Trials and Tribulations of a Smallholder

Don’t worry, things aren’t as dire as the title of this post makes out. I just thought that my worries in life have changed somewhat since becoming a smallholder and it might be interesting to others…. although I will let you be the judge of that!

We have been watching our sow, Barbara, very carefully as, soon, we hope to start breeding from her. She has an absolutely lovely temperament and luckily it seems to be very easy to spot when she is on heat. She gave us a real scare a few days ago when we went to feed her and couldn’t find her. We found her sleeping behind some brambles, but we couldn’t get her to her feet, she wasn’t interested in food and was shivering. We worked out what had happened in the end; as she has lots of shade in her run and it only being March, we did not think it was crucial to give her a mud wallow. As it was very sunny, I sprayed her ears with sunscreen and I thought she would be ok but I didn’t anticipate that she would sunbathe all day and burn her stomach. She then must have been too hot to bother going to bed, so she slept outside and the temperature dropped very low at night, so she probably had a bit of a chill in the morning. Thankfully, another warm day and, this time, a lovely mud wallow saw her right as rain again (even if her tummy is still a little pink) and she was chowing down on her food like normal by the evening. Phew!

Incubating fertilised eggs has not been as straightforward as the first time round. We desperately want to keep Australorp chickens and after lots of searching for breeders, we finally managed to buy half a dozen hatching Australorp eggs. We were super excited after 21 days in the incubator waiting to see our new chicks, but sadly nothing hatched and it turned out the eggs were not fertile. Luckily the lady who sold us the eggs was nice enough to send a second batch and she threw in a couple of extra eggs of some Maran/Australorp crosses. Everything was going swimingly until disaster struck and a fuse tripped just after we checked up on the incubator for the night, so it was switched off over night and must have got quite cold. Now we doubt we will have any chicks after over 6 weeks of trying, but we’ve left the eggs in the incubator just in case….. doubtful and very sad. Third time lucky?

The saddest thing that has happened is that farmer who owns the field on the other side of our stream decided to clear some trees from his side of the bank. We were a little worried when we saw diggers and dumper trucks so we went to have a look. The contractor assured us all he would do was remove trees from the other side and a couple that had fallen across the stream and he got the farmer to come round and reassure us. The noise of the machinery went on for 2 weeks, 7 days a week starting at 7 in the morning every day, even on Sundays. When we saw what the farmer had done we were totally distraught. Far from just removing a few trees, the farmer had removed all the trees from his side, excavated the banks, straightened the stream and basically turned it into a ditch. He had uncovered horrible concrete that he laid previously and even cut the trees on our side of the stream that were in any way leaning over the stream. When we confronted him he said this had to be done to prevent “bank erosion”. Surely tree roots are the natural way to prevent bank erosion. The worst part is that we used to have otters in this stream and there is little hope they will return with the current state of it.








Our chickens have caused us some anxiety too. Allowing them to free range entirely is very romantic and it is lovely watching the chickens investigating the woodpile, the hedges and wandering down the drive, but the downsides are a front door step covered in chicken poo, endlessly searching for their eggs and the seed from the bird table being gobbled up by the cockerel. All this was worth bearing as they didn’t seem to have any interest in the kitchen garden, but then, just as our first asparagus heads started to peep through, the chickens moved in and ate every single one and washed their gourmet main course down with a rhubarb dessert! So the chickens have now had their wings clipped and are confined to the orchard.  We are keeping them behind electric fence part of the time as we are worried that they are more vulnerable to foxes up behind the house.

Other worries on the animal front are that our geese have not yet laid a single egg and our cow is very rambunctious, head-butting, kicking and acting mule-like when you try and lead her out to the field.

Of course, our life is not all worries and dramas! These are mostly fairly minor worries with easy solutions but I thought they helped demonstrate how different our priorities have become since living in the city. It being spring and having had some unseasonally warm weather, things are buzzing and happy at Penybanc. The bees are busy and now have a honey super on their hive ready for filling, the birds are singing loudly and are building their nests, the daffodils have been and now the tulips are out in force, we have a new polytunnel which we’re about to fill with yummy things, yesterday we went on a vegetable sowing mission from dawn until dusk and we were fuelled by our own sausages and bacon. Happy Days!

Winter at Penybanc

Sorry that it has been so long since our last update. We thought winter would be the quiet season where we would get more time to do things like update the blog, but it was busier than expected. This blog has some of the highlights. The videos are especially for our three year old nephew Matty, so they may not interest everyone!

At the beginning of winter we used the last of our apples to make our first batch of completely home grown, home pressed and home brewed organic cider with help from Frankie and Luke, which went late into the night and had to be finished under the light of head-torches. Thanks guys! The brew was ready just in time for Christmas. It is fairly dry, very quaffable and packs quite an alcoholic punch.








woodpile in tumbling down shedIt was a mild winter, which was lucky as it was our first experience of trying to heat our house and water with wood alone. We haven’t yet managed to build our log store so all our wood is in a huge pile in the shed that needs rebuilding, with the most seasoned stuff being at the bottom of the pile, making it difficult to get to. That combined with our wood not really being seasoned enough as it needs another summer to dry as well as all the chopping and chainsawing of logs involved, means that it has been a lot of work keeping ourselves warm. We learnt that burning green wood means it is difficult to get the range cooker up to temperature and has also clogged it with soot much quicker so we have already had to clean it twice. It is all totally worth it, but we’re looking forward to next year when we have seasoned wood and an organised log store! Here is are a short video of Jules chopping a log for Matty:

Winter is, of course, the time to cut down trees, clear brambles and lay hedges. We discovered that our orchard field is actually bigger than we had realised and even uncovered 4 four apple trees that had been swamped with sloes and brambles.

As part of our winter clearing, We felled our own Christmas tree!

It was the best Christmas tree we’ve ever had. Although it was actually only the top third of the tree we felled. We also made some decorations with the off cuts.

With help from some of our friends, we cleared the area around the “well”, which is more of a spring really that we are going to turn into a pond for ducks and geese. This became more urgent when our fellow smallholder, Mandy from Glyn Elwyn offered to give us a breeding pair of geese called George & Gill. Here is a before and after picture (the trailer was where the recycled plastic goose house now stands).







We acquired a new Australorp cockerel from a lovely lady through Freecycle. We have called him JD and we were happy that the transition of alpha male from the old cockerel to JD was pretty smooth. The chickens suffered a few sniffles and sneezes over the coldest months of the year and they stopped laying eggs altogether. In spring we hope to start breeding Light Sussex and Australorp chickens for meat in earnest.

Another addition to the Penybanc menagerie is a Gloucester Old Spot piglet who we have called “Chanchita”. She was number 13 of the litter and so had little chance of surviving as (although sows usually have 14 teets) her mum only has 12 working teets as she has two blind ones. Again, this was a lovely donation to us from Mandy at Glyn Elwyn who has been an amazing source of tips and advice, including even teaching us to give injections.

Chanchita has already at least tripled in size and has discovered how to climb up onto the straw bale enclosure we made her in the kitchen. She even jumps down and plays with Dusk and generally gets under our feet.

And just a few days ago we took delivery of a compact tractor and some implements, which we got from a dealer in Somerset. We’re hoping that this will allow us to use our time more efficiently and do some serious planting of things like fodder crops on a larger scale, which will take us another step closer to self-sufficiency. This video is quite long as we heard Matty is likely to watch it over and over again:

Next week we’re slaughtering one of our Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. We’re going to attempt making ham, bacon and prosciutto for the first time. Eeek! Spring is just around the corner and it very much feels like the quiet before the storm as everything will start growing like mad. So we better get back to it – byeeee!

Early Summer

We didn’t get much time for updating this site in May and June which are (predictably) pretty busy months on a smallholding – but especially so for us novices being new to keeping animals, growing veg and having still loads to do on the house and land to get it into proper shape. Anyway, enough excuses – here is what we’ve been up to.

The main job that was achieved in May and June was knocking down a structural wall dividing the kitchen and sitting room and opening up the fireplace to make it big enough to fit a wood-fired range cooker. It was a big job and the flue still needs to be lined before the cooker can go in. The building and plumbing works will continue over the next two or three months. Hopefully we can get the central heating up and running before autumn…

This is a photo of our first haul of veg. The kitchen garden has been producing lots of lovely stuff for us to eat. We had to dig up all of our early potatoes as a result of a bout of early blight sadly – but the silver lining is that we have a sack of new potatoes that we are slowly munching our way through. Particular highlights are funny curly carrots where they must have hit a stone and grown round them, delicious yellow baby courgettes on the barbie, our own rocket which tasted better than any shop bought salad we’ve had and super sweet peas and tender mange touts.  Now we just want the tomatoes to hurry up and ripen (which we tell them every day).









We took advantage of all the redcurrants and blackcurrants (that weren’t eaten by the birds) and elderflower collected from the road-side to make jam, cordial and bottled fruit – yummy! We also have some gooseberries that we found in our hedge, which we’ve frozen for the future. As we can’t grow lemons and oranges, we’re always likely to have to buy in a small amount of fruit for adding to cordials, but we found a great recipe which means absolutely nothing goes to waste; it’s called Compost Heap Jelly. You basically use all the rinds and leftovers to make a marmalade, which we liked so much it is almost all gone.

June is haymaking time so, as we don’t have any ruminants yet and we have an abundance of grass, one of our local dairy farmers took some bales of haylage (i.e. in between hay and silage). These days, making hay is not the communal activity that you read about in John Seymour’s books. It is all about a contractor with heavy machinery and it’s done at an incredible speed. The huge round bales wrapped in plastic weighing over a ton look out of place on a smallholding like Penybanc, but we’re glad it isn’t going to waste this year and not to have grass around our waists anymore. Hopefully next year we will be able to make some small bales ourselves for our own use.  In order to get the big machinery into our field, a JCB was needed to uproot the stump in front of the house, so all in all there were seven enormous (and expensive) bits of kit that trundled onto our land in a space of three days, being: JCB, mower, hay raker, baler, bale wrapper, bale mover and loader wagon.




On the animal front, our chicks are now little chickens that have just started to roost instead of sleeping in a big pile. We had to seal up the nest boxes as they insisted on trying to all sleep in one of the nest boxes even though they didn’t really fit and would come out in the morning with crumpled feathers sticking out all over the place. Incredibly, we only have one cockerel (who has just started trying to crow) and five hens. Apparently they don’t lay eggs until about 18-20 weeks old, which means we have to wait until the end of September before we have any eggs, but then we are likely to be overrun with them.


The pigs have been storming through their food and have reached about 40kg each. The hot weather meant that we had to carry lots of water to fill their wallow for them to be able to cool off. Watching them is brilliant fun, but we discovered that standing close by means you will get spattered with mud when they inevitably get out and shake themselves off. They have been healthy except for a little wheezy cough they developed as a result of worms, but that has now been treated and should be totally cleared up soon. Measuring the Boys to calculate their weight and then trying to make sure they took only their food ration with the medicine in the rain would have been a real slapstick treat for any observer. The pigs are a lot of fun and we’re now fully addicted to them, so we’re already trying to source our next set of weaners to bring on.

Since 1st July we have had about another 10,000 animals at Penybanc as the bees arrived – hurrah! They had a pretty traumatic few hot hours in the car, stuck in traffic when they were collected so they were pretty angry when they first came out. But, contrary to popular belief, they’re pretty docile and none of them were in the mood for stinging us even though the smoker stopped working. They seemed to have settled in well and the ladies can be seen arriving back at the hive with sacks of pollen and last night we witnessed them all sleeping huddled together. Bring on the honey!!








Now we’re in the process of getting everything we need in order so that we can buy a jersey calf to hand rear, so we’re ordering fencing materials and have been patching up existing fencing in places…. but that’s a story for another time.

Otherwise, we have just been enjoying the long days of June. The wildlife is great at the moment, with lots of butterflies, wildflowers, birds and bats around. We have swallows nesting in our barn and happened to be clearing out the barn when the five little ones first fledged the nest. Our neighbours have got a puppy of their own, who Dusk loves playing with (although he is now poorly and we hope he gets better soon).








I think that’s pretty much all I can think of for now. Phew! In need of a tea break – thanks CT:

In the words of others…

We’ve been flat out with gardening, feeding/cleaning/training animals, working and, the latest, doing structural work knocking down a wall and opening the fireplace, where the wood burning range cooker/boiler will go. There is not much time and not much else to say at the mo, but here are some quotes we have read in the last few weeks:

A few from John Seymour’s book The Fat of the Land:

“If a man does not undertake some really hard and even violent manual work fairly often he becomes soft, his arteries harden, his heart weakens, he puts on fat, he develops blood pressure, his liver gets hob-nailed – I hate to think what he looks like inside. And outside he doesn’t look much better.”

“[T]he simple life, alas, once you really try to lead it, leads you into all this complication! You cannot live, and rear a family, on your own little share of your country, growing your own food, preserving and processing it, without this vast assemblage of tools and implements.”

“I know the modern […] worker is supposed to lead an “easier” life than, say, a French peasant. But I wonder if this supposition is correct. And I wonder if, whether “easier” or not, it is a better life? Simpler? Healthier? More spiritually satisfying? or not? I don’t wonder very long.”

“In Wales life changed for us completely. […] Our neighbours had not yet all given up brewing their own beer, killing their own pigs, and living largely from their own holdings. This fact made life immediately pleasanter for us: we no longer felt like freaks.”

We also recently read John Seymour’s book “I’m a Stranger Here Myself, the Story of a Welsh Farm”, where we read this poem:

“It’s no good asking me the way guvnor
I’m a stranger here myself
If you don’t know the way I don’t
And anyway the way to where?
Where is it that you want to get mate?
Someone said: ‘I am the Way’
But he didn’t make it clear where to
There’s plenty of ways of course
This way and that way and the other way over there
They all lead somewhere – but is it anywhere you want to go?
Oh I’m a fool am I?
I see
Well I may be a fool master but I do know where I be
I live in a bubble of air I do
With a rock in it
Hurtling through Eternity
No it’s no good asking me the way guvnor
I’m a stranger here myself
That’s me.”

And here are a few other quotes:

“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad – or an economist.” JFK’s environmental adviser, Kenneth Boulding

“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what needs to be done.” Marie Curie

“Do not squander time. That is the stuff that life is made of.” Engraving from an old sundial.

“Never invest in an idea you can’t illustrate with crayon.” Wall Street investor Peter Lynch.