Thursday, 30 April 2009

House Up-Date

Well, I thought I would keep you in suspenders no longer. If you have made a guess at which house we are going to see (after saying we wouldn't back in September) is ta daaaa....
The price has since been dropped and become a fixed price property which is always easier to deal with. It is about an hour away from where we are, in the wrong direction, but the property looks so good we are considering it as, if you have found the right property you'll need to make some sacrifices! I will not be able to report on the actual visit as it is a Solicitor that is taking us round and so the earliest that they could fit us in was the 16th so you lovely people will have to wait until then before you hear all about it. I can give you a low down though.
Five bedrooms, only one bathroom but has a shower room. Kitchen, Living Room/Dining Room, pantry. There are various outhouses and other buildings as well as a small amount of land. Not as much land as we would have liked but there may be the possibility of buying more as it is right in the middle of farm land. Development looks plausible as recently a new build was put up near by, my thinking is if they allowed that then why not a couple of shed conversions, but that would need to be explored. Very close to a lovely tourist area in Scotland and nice central location for a load of others!
So, I am very excited to go and see it. I wanted to the first time I saw it but it was way off our price range! Hooray for recession!
Hope you will join my later to see how the visit went!

Monday, 27 April 2009

Money Saving Ideas - Energy

We are always looking to reduce our expenses and one way that this can be achieved is to lower our energy bills. This is something which most people can relate to and in a lot of areas there is something you can do about it! There are two popular alternatives - Solar power and Wind. Both can be added to existing properties and in many areas there is a grant available to help with the initial costing.

Solar Power
Solar power is not limited to only the sun drenched shores of the Mediterranean, wherever you are there is scope for gaining benefit from the sun. Solar panels on your roof can be used to create electricity or to heat the water in your home. Whatever you choose to do there are things that you should consider before embarking.
Cost - there are, as I have said, grants available to help with the expense but there will be costs to you. These costs will be offset by the amount you save on your energy bills over the life of your panels but should still be considered at the time of placement.
Repair & Maintenance - The panels are hard wearing but as with anything they will deteriorate over time and as aresult will need replacing and, in the worst case, replacing. It will also be good practice to inform your house insurance company of them and ensure that they will also be covered.
Installation - there are many companies, and a quick search of the internet will show them, who are capable of installing the panels for you. But remember there will some time of disruption while the panels are fitted.
Asthetics - soalr panels are not overly offensive but be sure you are going to be happy with them in situ.

Wind Power

Wind power is obviously more suited towards those of us with more wind than the others! Often more rural places or those of us on higher ground will benefit more from the wind turbine. Before deciding on a wind turbine make sure you are going to get enough wind, unlike the solar panels (you are pretty much garenteed that the sun will rise tomorrow) you cannot be sure that it will be windy so these turbines will be useless on many days.

Again however, there are grants out there to help dover the cost of having the turbine installed and many companies that are able to do the work.
Cost - Turbines tend to be more expensive outright than solar panels and as their use is limited to windy days, depending on your wind, may take long to 'pay for themselves'.
Asthetics - Wind turbines need to be above the house height to ensure a good flow of air so you must be prepared for this extra height and feature to your property.
Legal - In some areas it will be sensible to refer to zoning laws as you may not be legally permitted to install a turbine.
Repair & Maintenance - Again they will wear out, although designed well for their purpose and hard wearing, so be prepared to have to fix or replace.

There are always ways to save yourself some cash and generating your own energy is just one of them. But if what you are looking for is simple heating then never forget the simple log fire! If you are lucky enough to have the chimneys in your house intact then make use of them. A chimney can easily be converting back to a functioning fireplace. There is obvioulsy a safety aspect but a good fire guard and some fire safety lessons for children and the fire becomes a wonderful focal point for a room as well as providing a lot of heat. Fuel need not be expensive if you can buy in bulk and if you go for solid fuels like peat (which will smoulder rather than roar) the cost can be kept low.
Downfalls with an open fire is that, unless the rooms are small then a fire tends to heat only one room. However, leaving only specific doors open and allowing the heat to permeate can help spread the warmth through to the most well used rooms. There is talk that 'most of the heat goes up the chimney' and this is true, a lot of heat does escape but a lot of heat is produced so you don't nesecarily want to keep it all. Open fires also have the psychological effect of making the room feel warm, simply because they are there and don't even have to give of that much heat.
Whatever you are looking for in energy saving ideas there is something for everyone. And if all else fails, why not just 'switch it off'!!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Tuesday 21nd April - Property Viewing

Bedrooms: 2/3
Bathrooms: 1 (only a shower room)
Land: 4.5 acres
Stables for 3, two large sheds, garage, shared private drive

Well, we headed up the driveway and the first thing that we thought was this is nice, bumping along our own country track style driveway. First possible problem with the house is not in itself but in the adjoining property, which is in a very bad state. Not derelict but very unloved. Slates missing and grubby brick work, sad looking car, you get the idea. we are told that the neighbour is an older gentleman taxi driver, who keeps to himself. First visit is to the sheds. Smallest one first, a nice size for a garage and, I'm not great judging distances (woman thing) but I would've thought that it could've taken both cars. They use it to store hay as it is somewhat leaky, but not horrendously so. I've tried to mark on the photo with numbers so this is shed 1. Shed 2 was being used for the horses tack so was perfectly dry and secure. Shed 3 was set up like a motor workshop, viewing pit, that chain thing that lifts the engines about. They were both the same size and could, apparanly hold 6 cars, I would definately have said 4 large saloons easily. The stables were amazing. Great condition and of a very good size, they led straight onto the land and the horses appeared to be able to come and go as they pleased. They are not shown to their best in the photo but they were really nice!
Standing out by the stables though it became apparant how close the motorway was, you could see it and you could definately hear it. To me that's a big issue, I am looking for a country property and would hate to be remined of the town! D didn't seem bothered too much as you couldn't hear it in the house, but I want to be outside!!
The house itself was very small. There was no place for a kitchen table, or any table. The bedrooms were small as was the living room and the bathroom had no bath, just a shower. But they were all livable. The boiler would require replacing and so would the oven. The central heating was LPG so we would be looking to replace that with oil. The windows were aluminium and would need to be replaced at some point. There would definately need to be an extension. We asked about planning permission rulings and he said most people who have been looking at the property have asked the same thing and planning permission seems to be sketchy, it does seem to depend upon exactly what you were looking to do.
All in all a very promising property but there are some bigger issues whcih may turn out to be to big to overcome or live with. We don't mind if the property needs to be changed but the area is something we can't do anything about and so will have to select it carefully!!

Chickens On Film!

I just had to send you this link! This is the funnest thing i've seen in a while and it'll give me my chicken fix for a bit - and hopefully yours!
I love this idea and it has given me such ideas for what to do with my hens when I get them. Of course my brain is going 'hmm hen cam... goat cam? Horse cam!!' But I do like the idea of having them online so i can check up on them at work, how cool would that be!? And I am sure that D would be up for helping on that as it is all computery and technical and stuff!!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Battery Hens

Well, I have been saying for several weeks now that I would write up some of the information that I have found regarding chickens. These are the first addition that I would want to add to whatever property that we end up with. So, in the usual fashion it is best to be prepared so I am brushing up on my chicken knowledge early and as I learn, so too shall I share with you! Today is a basic overview of the plight of the Battery Hen.

After all I have read, and although we are in a situation where we could probably get some free chicks from friends who have chickens already I am more keen than ever to rescue a battery hen. I am sure everyone has heard the plight of the battery hen - kept in small enclosures with no room to move around, kept in a continual mid-summers day all the 70 day long lives and encouraged to lay a huge amount of eggs. But what I am not sure if many people know is that it is possible to rescue these birds and you will end up with a great chicken that, although egg yield is not as high as a non-bat hen, still produces well and has the added bonus of the feel good factor of knowing you have given her a better life.

I have spent much time looking through the website of British charity Battery Hen Welfare Trust, from here, and many other similar charities you can rescue a battery hen and know that the money you donate to the charity will go towards caring and campaigning for better rights for chickens. If you are looking for chickens I do encourage that you consider a battery hen, check out the website above, for Britain dwellers, if you are from another country I am sure there are similar cahrities around or why not go direct to the battery farm?

Don't be put off by the appearance of the chickens in photographs - bald! - they won't stay like that! Give them the proper treatment and they will soon be looking as lovely as they were intended to be. I said above that they don't give as many eggs as a 'normal' hen but the general opinion seems to be they are about halved in egg number. This is due to being 'egged out', so if you want on average 3 eggs a day, get 6 chickens, that aught to give you around 3 eggs a day, although you might be lucky and get more! If you are looking to experience the 'cheep cheep' of baby chicks then the battery hen can provide you with this, she is not unable! But remember that you will need a cockerel to have your own chicks and then you have the added noise factor. But having experienced farm living with added 'cock-a-doodle' it is not unplesant but maybe not suitable for the inner city chicken farmer! You can still have chicks however, just purchase some fertilized eggs and give them to one of your own hens, she will raise them as her own.

I do want to give you some more suitable posts once we get our own little flock but until then you will have to cope with only the excited musings of a desperate-to-be chicken owner. I would like to investigate the possiblities in chicken coops so this will also form the basis of my future posts.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Touch Wood...

Yes, people touch as much wood as you can while reading this! But we got news last night that the property that we were waiting on being sold is now sold! But this is subject to survey, hence the crossing of the fingers. Assuming that this sale does go through we are very much in a position to get our house on the market and start looking at other properties with an actual view to buy! Must.. Contain... Excitment... But isn't it amazing how things suddenly happen, just the beginning of this week I was thinking, there has been no progess towards the move, none at all, and here we are one house sold (touch wood!) and the possibility of the second going on the market!!

The excitment is also being made worse by the fact that we have just found a property about 15 minutes from where we are now that, from looking at the schedule, has so much potential it could pop and is less than any of the places we had looked at before!

We are trying to get a viewing but it looks like it will be into next week before we are able to go, the owners are not available at the weekend.
This little place I will report on properly with its own post once we have been but a quick overview I shall give you now. It is on roughly 4 acres of land, 2 bedroom house (bit small but hopefully scope for extension), stabling for three horses, and 2 large outbuildings. There is also appears to be a garage or possibly large shed. I have tried drawing a line around what we believe to be the extent of the property, ahh trusty paint! We will obviously check exactly what is the property but if it is all that then this is a very possible property. I am quite looking forward to going and looking around.
As I said the house itself is quite small but with all the possible space around, assuming there are no strange planning permission laws then extending is a definate option.
And at this price level... we are talking mortgage free people!!!
More updates as events warrant!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Herb Garden

Well people say hello to my herb pot, as it was left over from last year. A lot of the plants seem to have not only survived but also thrived just being left alone! I am trying this technique on various areas of the garden, it's called 'leaving them alone'. It seems to be working. I am just allowing areas of the garden do their own thing for one year and so far they have all appreciated not being poked and prodded for a bit. It does mean that some things needed a bit of a prune when it was time for me to 'stick my oar' in again but I think it is a good way of letting them flourish!
Anyway, on with the herb gardens. As you can see from the picture above there is a selection of herbs there, and, as is sensible, these are the ones that I use most often. It may seem like a silly rule but do think about what herbs you are likely to use. There are hundreds of herbs out there and you can get carried away with the idea of the herb garden rather than what is going to be a good use of your time raising. Lets have a look at the herbs I have got there:


In the middle a the front, in that attractive light green. A great herb to have, probably you have all seen it before as a garnish, that little piece of green that always causes the 'can I eat it?' query at meals. Well, you can! Parsley is often used as a garnish and this is how I use it, but often not as the 'lump' that restaurants do. Try chopping it up and sprinkling it over your lasagna or even mix it through mashed potato! There aren't many dishes that parsley won't brighten.


Stringy green, front right. There is only one thing I use these for and it is THE best. Cut them up with scissors and mix in the mashed potato. I know I said use parsley up there but that's only if you are out of chives. The oniony flavour is amazing in potato.


Grey/Green, on the left. I always like to put a few sprigs of this when I am roasting a chicken, great flavour and a beautiful smell. Try putting the sprig between the skin and the flesh of the chicken to allow the flavours to really permeate through the meat.


The hairy plant at the back. This is a wonderful aromatic plant and can be used in a multitude of ways - try it with salmon!! But also, after the flowers have come through wait for the seeds, collect them, dry them and there you are, your own fennel for the kitchen spice rack!!
I am also in the process of growing some flat leaf Basil so I will let you know how that progresses and hopefully get some nice pictures for you soon.

Saving Your Herbs

I found this wonderful way of preserving your herbs out of season! I had to share it with you. When your herbs are ready, cut them and chop them. Then put them into an ice cube tray. Fill the sections with water and freeze as normal. Then, when you need to use the herbs, just pop out a cube and put it straight in your recipe. Voila! Also, why not putting in single leaves of, for example, mint to make attractive and tasty ice cubes for drinks!!

So Many Tulips..

I love planting bulbs for the following year as I have always forgotten how many, or in some cases, what I have planted. This year the best thing has been the tulips. I planted some last year but hadn't realised I had planted so many or in so many colours. So I thought I couldn't let the opportunity pass by without sharing them with you.

Lots of flowers are coming out in the garden at the moment. The crocuses have been and gone and the daffodills are in full bloom, with some already finished. There are still many bulbs that I have planted this year that are waiting to come up but a few are peaking through the earth. I have finished planting up my pots and deciding where they aught to go in the garden. It is looking good and I think when the bulbs finally do there thing there will be a great display. Just need to have a barbeque now to show them off!!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Growing Your Own Salad Leaves

We all know that we should be eating more healthily and what better way to encourage yourself, and your kids, to eat more salad than by growing it yourself!! Now I have chosen to grow a small bowl of it (as there are only two of us) but you can grow as much as you want. Try choosing a pack of seeds for 'Salad Leaves' rather than for a particular type of lettuce, this will give you the biggest range of leaves for your salad and a lot more colour and interest in your pot, or bed. The pot pictured is a great shape and depth of salad, you could probably go shallower if you are just going with leaves, rather than specific lettuce such as Iceberg. Also great for growing spinach!

Now if you have been reading the previous posts you will know that I suggested getting yourself a calandar and that this would be important when we got to grow the Salad Leaves, well you'll soon find out why..

Sow your lettuce seeds as follows: fill your bowl almost to the top and pat down as discussed in the Seeding post. Sprinkle over 1/4 to 1/3 of the seeds in your packet and make sure they are evenly covering the surface. Sprinkle a light covering of soil over them, just enough to cover them all, again you can pat down gently. Now park your bowl wherever you wish, mine has been put straight out in the garden although if there is any sign of late frost I will move into the shed. By the way if you are planting in a bed, be a bit tidier in your sowing buy making furrows and spinkling the seeds along the furrow before covering over.

Whats the calandar for? Mark today as Phase 1: Lettuce. And mark off in two weeks time Phase 2: Lettuce, two more weeks Phase 3: Lettuce etc until you have accounted for all your seeds. Then, on your marked days, go back to your pot and sprinkle on the next batch of seeds. This will encourage your leaves to grow in 'waves' meaning you have a continuing supply of fresh salad. If you are planting in a bed then just make a new furrow each seeding week, so you end up with three or four rows of leaves at different stages.

And there you go, easy hassle free salad leaves...

I will get pictures of my plantings as soon as they are more interesting than a pot of mud!!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Preparing For and Planting Your Seeds - Sweetcorn

As I said, yesterday I was out in the shed, in the rain I might add planting up some of my newly bought plants! Nice cheap plants too after some birthday presents Gardening Vouchers and my 10% discount card!! One of the main plants that I am going to attempt to grow this year, which will be new for me, is Corn (as in Corn-on-the-cob, butter on your chin, stuck in your teeth!). So planting seeds, you can do this in a series of pots but buy far the easiest is to purchase a seed tray, they are not expensive and are nicely re-usable.
Check the pack of seeds to find out the sowing time, this is usually given as a range of months in my case March - May, I am nicely in the middle.
Fill your seed tray just over half full and press down the soil, don't compact it in, the roots need to be able to get through, but just ensure the soil isn't loose. If the soil is too loose when it comes to watering you will find that you get mud soup with seeds floating about in it! Position the seeds in rows in your seed tray. Now the back of the pack will tell you the rough distance that you need to keep between each plant, although I admit I pack a few more in and just thin them out after the seedlings begin to show. Sprinkle another layer of soil on the top of the seeds and ensure they are completely covered. Again, you probably want to pat the soil down gently to avoid them floating during watering. Correctly label your seed tray, else you will have no idea what is growing where. I use a pack of wooden lolly sticks and a ball point but be as creative as you like.
I find that having a small calendar that has space for notes is handy, just make a note of what you planted when. This is also handy if you have seeds or plants needing attention at different dates, make a note of that in advance and then you will be prepared. This will be handy when we talk about Salad Leaves later this week. A nice calendar site is Printable Calendar this way you can print off months as you need them, but there are plenty of free printables, free promotional or cheap calendars out there.
If you are getting really serious on maintaining a diary/calendar of gardening activity then you can always pick up a Garden Planner pretty cheaply from many bookshops.
Anyway, back to seed trays. Water you seeds gently try to avoid 'monsoons' by using a watering can with the spray head fitted. Ensure that the tray is sitting somewhere were it is free to drain. Although not necessary sitting the tray in something to catch the run off allows the seeds to draw up the excess as they need it, I have found that old baking trays are the perfect size for this!
If you have a green house then put your tray in there, if not a shed will do or even a sunny window ledge. Some seed trays have little 'greenhouse' style lids available which fit on top and provide the warmth of a greenhouse, but in miniature. But I have had equal success with plastic shopping bags, as long as they are white and allow the light through.
Keep an eye on your seeds and don't let them dry out. We will return to the sweetcorn seeds as they progress...

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Vegetables Begin

I thought that I would have a few vegetables in the garden this year but due to the fact that last year my greenhouse died and this year fell over completely I am doing it 'without greenhouse'. But I am not going to let it stop me going for some old favourites and also trying some new ideas for low maintainence home-growns.

Today saw me planting out the yellow peppers and chillis into their pots. Without a greenhouse I have used some of the ever available plastic drinks bottles as little individual greenhouses. This means that I can get the little plants straight into the garden without worry.

I have also planted some sweetcorn seeds. These will be kept in our shed until the seedlings are strong and ready to go outside. Wondering where you would plant corn plants? Well, how about a pot, make it a reasonable size and you should get about four plants in one. These will also make great height for the back of a pot display on your porch or decking. Even grow them in your conservatory for a unique talking point.

I have also bumped out my strawberry plant crop with some new blood so hopefully this will result in some more fresh berries for some more strawberry jam.
I will be updating with more tips and updates on the garden exploits soon..