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10: Episode 10 – Planting seeds

How to plant seeds, either direct sowing or in seed starter trays. I use a no digging method in my vegetable bed.

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Transcript:

Planting Seeds

Today, we’re going to be talking about seeds. It’s the time of year when we’re all busy planting seeds. The weather’s just turned; some of us have just enjoyed some lovely hot days
and the summer is definitely just around the corner. Winter, I think we can say, is behind us. I certainly am very, very busy planting seeds, transplanting seeds, some I’m direct sowing already, others I’m putting in pots in the polytunnel.

There’s no mystery to planting seeds. It really can be quite simple. So, I’m going to try and demystify it a little bit here today. The first thing I want everyone to remember is that plants want to grow. They absolutely are built to do a job and that is to grow into the finished plant. A lot of the time, what we really need to do is give them what they need and then get out of the way. We don’t need to be tinkering too much; we just need to make sure we don’t do anything wrong. The plant is already raring to go. We just need to make sure we don’t do anything wrong to spoil it.

Planting Undercover

So, there’s two types of planting: one would be planting undercover in a polytunnel
or under a cold frame or something similar, with a view to planting out once the seedlings are strong enough to be handled and transplanted into their final destination. And then there is direct sowing, where we put the seed where the plant is going to ultimately stay. I’m going to talk quickly about planting undercover first.

There are a lot of seeds you can’t plant when there’s going to be a frost; they will benefit from being planted in a greenhouse or under some kind of protective environment. Now, obviously the information is going to vary from seed to seed. You’ll be able to find that on your seed packet or if you do a bit of Googling about the specific plant you’re going to grow.

Using the Right Soil

If you have a plant that you’re going to start in a seed tray or a small pot and put in a polytunnel or on a windowsill, then the type of soil that you use is quite important. If you are going down the route of buying compost and soil, then make sure you buy a seed starting compost. But if you’re not, you can make your own potting mix, which isn’t particularly difficult and does make quite a lot of difference.

You want to make sure that there’s no weeds and bugs in it. One of the common mistakes people make is that they take soil from their garden, put it in a pot, plant something in it and then put it in the greenhouse. Well, some of the problems that can happen from this is that there’s not just going to be the seed from your seedling in there. There could be something in there from a nearby weed. There could be bugs in there that are currently dormant but are about to be woken up by the lovely, warm temperature in the greenhouse environment, and lots of things of that nature. It’s always best, if you can, to use a piece of soil that has been covered or somehow protected from these things, so that when you introduce it to your greenhouse, then it’s not going to suddenly come alive with things you don’t want in there.

I have heard of people who take the soil and they put it over boiling water to sterilize it. Personally, I think that’s a bit too much work. But, by all means, that may be the way to go if you feel that you’ve got it in you to go to that effort.

You also want something that’s going to be fairly well draining, so you can water the plant
and without it getting waterlogged, but also something that’s going to retain plenty of the moisture. We’re lucky and we tend to just use the compost that we’ve made from the season before and we mix a tiny bit of sand or something with it. But you can buy products, such as perlite, which are designed to hold the moisture in the soil, but not in the soil where your seeds are. The perlite are little white balls that act like mini sponges. They soak the water out of the soil when it’s waterlogged, but they also slowly release it back after it has dried out.

How Deep Should I Plant My Seeds?

Once you have your soil in your pot, you go ahead and plant your seeds. Now, the methods for this are going to vary greatly from seed to seed. A general rule of thumb is that the bigger the seed, the deeper you plant it. So, a tiny little seed, such as that of a carrot, you’re going to plant under just the tiniest bit of compost, whereas a much bigger seed, such as a bean, you’re going to really push down in there with your finger. That’s one rule of thumb.

Monitoring Moisture Levels

Another thing to be aware of is that, once you’ve planted your seedlings, you’re going to need to monitor that moisture level, particularly if you have warm days and you have the pot in your polytunnel or greenhouse, as they’re going to dry out fairly quickly. Through the last week or so, we’ve had some really warm weather where we are and I’ve been watering my seedlings at least twice every single day. There are ways around that – you can place your pots in something that’s going to hold some water. Personally, I just make sure I’m out there checking them, because I’m in the garden anyway.

Knowing When to Transplant Your Seeds

Once you have your seeds planted in your pots and they’re in your greenhouse or other environment where you’re going to bring them on, could be on a windowsill, then really all you need to do is keep out of the way. You make sure that they’ve got the water they need and other than that, you trust that they’re going to do the right thing.

Now, you’re never going to get a hundred percent germination rate, so don’t be upset when you don’t, because no one does. Some of these seeds are not viable; they simply are not viable in nature. So, there’s no way you could make them grow, regardless of how perfect you made the conditions for them.

Once they’re big enough to transplant and when they’re looking sturdy enough that you’re fairly confident you can pick them up, take them out from where they are, and plant them somewhere else, then that’s the time to consider doing so. Now, there are lots of plants that will need to be protected from the frost, so you don’t really want to plant them out until the risk of frost is gone. But even the best gardeners I know – and I certainly I don’t include myself as one of the best gardeners I know, but I do include myself as someone who does plant their seedlings out a bit early – even I don’t like to wait until every single risk of frost has gone, because our last frost can be in May. I like to get things out in the garden before then, because otherwise I feel as though I just lose so much produce by not using that extra time.

So, if you’re like me and you’re going to put your seedlings out before the risk of frost has passed, then you’re going to just make sure you monitor the weather and be prepared to protect them from frost if a frost comes. I’m going to go into some ways of doing that in our next blog post.

Direct Sowing

If you’re going to sow something out directly, then, again, it’s based on the type of seed
and the information will be on the seed packet as to whether and when you sow it directly. But some things you really have to sow directly. For instance, with carrots, the whole thing you’re growing is the tuber, or the root. So, anything with a strong taproot like that, you’re going to want to plant in its final destination. Just bear that in mind.

What I tend to do is I just part the mulch, because all of our vegetable beds are covered all year round in a thick layer of mulch. I part the mulch and I tend to just place my seeds on the soil and then cover them in a tiny bit of compost and then recover with the mulch, but maybe not quite so deep. I do very little digging. I tend to plant everything in the mulch or just at the bottom layer of the mulch, down through the mulch. It saves a lot of back-breaking digging. But also, it actually does your soil really good, because there are a tremendous number of organisms, including the mycelial web, which is the fungi underneath the soil, that actually work like a distribution network amongst all your plants and they will make sure that all your plants get what they need. Every time you dig the soil, you disturb this and it has to start from scratch again.

You’ll find that some people with more traditional methods of growing food, will always say you need to dig; you need to keep the soil dug over and loose. But the method I use is very much a “no dig” method and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that it’s at least as good, if not better than the more traditional vegetable growing methods.

Selecting the Final Position For Your Seeds

Once you have your seedlings in their final position, again, it’s all about getting out the way and letting them do their thing. When you’re choosing their final position, be mindful of that particular plant’s characteristics: some will like shade, some will like full sun, some will need to be protected from the elements such as wind, some will need canes. Just bear all that in mind and make sure that you don’t plant something such as tomatoes on the south side of a big stack of runner beans, because what’s going to happen is that the runner beans are going to catch all that sun and the tomatoes, which are just behind it in the shade, are going to really struggle. So, make sure you plan how and where you’re going to plant things before you actually go out and do it.

Why You Should Save Extra Seeds

There you go – that’s seed planting and the time really is now. Another thing to bear in mind is to plant more seeds than you need. Generally, speaking, they’re almost free and a lot of the seeds that you’re going to plant next year are going to be seeds you’ve saved. Make sure you’re saving extra seeds so you have enough to over-plant. When it comes to seeds, I do this for three reasons:

  1. Firstly, there’s going to be a natural element of unviable seeds, which for whatever reason aren’t going to germinate. So, you’re going to lose some that way.
  2. The second reason is that it means you get to pick the strongest plants, the best looking plants, that are most likely to go on and do well and to be the ones you’re going to place in your garden. They’ll be the ones you save your seeds for next year.
  3. The third one is that you’re able to then sell some seedlings and that generates a small amount of income, which goes back into the homestead. So, make sure you over-plant. Let the seed do its thing and I’m sure you’ll have great success.

Good luck being more self-sufficient this year than last. That’s always the plan, at least, it is mine.

8: Episode 8 – making free plants through tip layering

One of the key components of a self sufficient life is to have plants that reproduce without too much effort. Tip layering is a great method for propagating more berry plants to increase your production, but also make excess plants to sell if desired.

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Transcript:

Making Free Plants Through Tip Layering

Today we're going to be talking about tip layering. Tip layering is a way of propagating plants,
particularly woody stem plants, and it's a great way to get free plants, to take one plant and turn
it into ten, a hundred, so on and so forth.

What is Tip Layering?

Tip layering is basically mimicking what happens in nature anyway. In nature, plants, such as blackberries and strawberries, propagate themselves by effectively reaching out with a branch or a stem, touching the ground, forming roots from that bit of the plant and then shooting off a new plant from there. So, you can do it with almost any woody stemmed plant, and the actual process is very, very simple. Every plant is slightly different insofar as which parts of the plant contain the genetic code for the entire plant.

Watercress is a great example of this. It’s one I use all the time. Every single part of a watercress plant, a bit of stem, even a tiny bit of leaf, contains all the genetic coding required to make a brand new plant. If you just tear a bit of a leaf off of a watercress plant and put it in a bowl of water, it will grow roots and eventually grow a whole new plant.

Within most Woody plants such as blackcurrants, red currants, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, all these kinds of things, the genetic code required is in all the stems, all the branches, and this is also true of a lot of trees – almost all trees.

Simple Steps to Follow

One thing that’s not quite so easy to do with trees though, that is quite simple to do with the plants I’m talking about today, is you can bend the stems down and pop them into the ground. So, if you’re doing it with a pot plant, you’d get a pot of whatever type of soil you want and next to the pot that the plants are growing in, you’d bend the stem over and you’d force it into the ground. That will eventually root and a new plant will come up from that set of roots, forming a whole new plant.

How you do it is really, really simple. So, you take the stem of your cranberry plant, for example, and some of this season’s growth towards the end of the stem at the tip, then you scratch off a bit of the bark with your thumb and you place that into the soil in your second pot, or just into the ground next to where it’s growing, and you force that to stay below the soil. Then, in addition, you have a small amount of that stem coming back out the other side, just a few inches. That’s literally all there is to it.

How I do it is by following those steps, and then I break off a twig in a sort of y-shape and I turn that upside down. I pin the y-shape either side of our stem to hold it under the soil, put a bit more soil on top, and it’s as simple as that. Then, if you come back in six months or whenever it might be, you will find that, if you dig that soil around, you’ll see that there are roots growing from the stem.

The Benefit of Tip Layering

There’s one super important advantage of doing it this way rather than taking cuttings. That’s because we’re utilizing all the same tricks as taking a cutting, but a big bonus of doing it this way is that you’re enabling the new plant – what would otherwise be your cutting – to remain attached to the mother plant and continue to draw nutrients from it while it’s establishing its own root system. That’s really important. So, the failure rate is much lower with tip layering.

How it Works

You’ll find in nature this happens anyway. This is how blackberries propagate; this is how strawberries propagate. If you watch a strawberry plant, you’ll see that it sends out runners all across the garden and it just pops itself into the soil, sorts out its own roots and builds a brand new plant for you. This is exactly the same as tip layering. Once you’ve done this and it’s established itself, you literally snip the original stem on the mother plant side of the new root and you’ve got yourself a brand-new plant.

A couple of things to think about when you’re doing this: this is not the same as sexual propagation when plants are pollinated by bees or whatever other insect. This is an asexual reproduction. What that means is you’re creating a genetic clone of the mother plant. So, it’s only worth doing this with your best plants. If you’re going to do it with your gooseberries, and you have five gooseberry bushes and you want five more, then take five tip-layered clones of the best plant you have. There’s no point doing it any other way.

There is a product called rooting hormone, which you can purchase and it is supposed to increase the chances and the rate of roots forming. Personally, I’ve never really had a great deal of success with it. What I mean by that is I’ve not seen it increase my success rate, so I don’t bother with it. I just do it without and the success rate on the right plants is nearly 100% without it. So I personally don’t see the need.

Making a Residual Income

If you have got yourself some berry plants or other currants and that kind of thing that you want more of, go ahead, get out there, tip layer them and get yourself some more plants. The time to do it is right now in the early spring, and then it’s got all summer to get itself set up, ready for next year. I personally like to leave it a year. So, I will do my tip layering now. I’ve actually done all the tip layering I’m doing this year and I won’t touch those plants now, or at least I won’t touch that portion of the plant now, until next spring. Next spring will be when I sever the original stem, which acts a bit like an umbilical cord throughout this process, and then I’m ready to transfer the new clone plants to their final home.

It’s a great way of increasing your stock of plants. If you don’t need to increase your stock of plants, it’s a great way of getting yourself a small residual income, because this is just one of the other things that you can sell, so that’s how we use this.

So, there you go. That’s all you need to know about tip layering. It really is as simple as that. Get out there. Give it a go. I hope you have fun.

5: Episode 5 – Edible Perrenials

The gift that keeps on giving! Plant once, harvest for a lifetime, edible perennials should form the backbone of every self sufficient food plan.

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Transcript:

Edible Perennials

Edible perennials are such an important part of self-sufficiency because it's a lot of work to grow
your own food and to raise your own food, and edible perennials form a part of that self-
sufficient food income, if you like, that over time requires less and less input. So it's the same
amount of work as planting your lettuce this year, to plant (for example) kale, but the difference
is that the kale won't need planting again next year. It's an edible perennial.
So we're going to run through a list of edible perennials. It's not exhaustive and I'm sure later
date, we will go into a lot more depth in some of these, but for now, I just wanted to run through
just some of the edible perennials that we've got growing here to illustrate just how important
they can be for part of your self-sufficient food security.

List of Edible Perennials for Self-Sufficiency

Vegetables

So we’re going to start with vegetables and I’m just going to list four or five that are really key for me.

Asparagus

The first one is asparagus. Now asparagus is hugely important to me because it is something we all love eating. We really enjoy eating it, and it can be the centerpiece of a meal. So if you’re a carnivore – like I am, and you enjoy eating meat, asparagus and mushrooms are two things that can take the place of meat in a meal. You can make asparagus-based main courses, and it reduces the need to produce as much meat as you might otherwise. At least that’s how we look at it.

Another reason asparagus is so great is that, once you’ve got yourself your asparagus bed established, it will go on for decades, giving you a fantastic crop every year. So we started with eight crowns that we bought and we’re expecting our first harvest this year. We put them in two years ago. And this is year three and that’s really when you can start harvesting. There were quite a few Spears came up last year, but we didn’t touch them. As tempting as they were, we left them so the energy could remain within the plant and, as of this year, we should be able to harvest lightly, and next year full harvest. So, from those eight grounds, I’m fully expecting to get enough asparagus to meet our needs, certainly for the summer half the year. And in subsequent years, we should get enough asparagus to fill our needs for the whole year and potentially with some to sell. So that’s a great crop.

Kale

The second one is something I've already mentioned and that is kale. We planted a row of kale
two years ago, and it's overwintered and we've basically used it as a cut and come again crop
for vegetables, for leafy vegetables like spinach and equivalent; and it's still going two years
later. And it's strong as ever. So kale is a great plant because it's got two parts. It's got the stem
and the leaf. You treat them both differently and you can actually serve it up as two different
vegetables on a plate. They look very different, tastes very different. So kale is a great perennial
vegetable and it's actually got a place in our vegetable plot with our annuals.

Artichokes

The second and third are both artichokes. They're actually not related, but they've got the
artichoke in the name. So that's the globe artichoke and the Jerusalem artichoke. They're very
very different plants.
Now Globe artichoke flowers, you can put it in the corner of a border flower bed, and it wouldn't
look out of place. Which is in fact what we've done. We've got four or five scattered around our
flower beds. And it produces beautiful Globe artichoke vegetables every single year. And again,
that's a perennial. It will go on and on.
And the second one Jerusalem artichoke – strictly speaking, it's more of an annual but it can be
grown as a perennial. If you've ever tried to grow Jerusalem artichokes as an annual then you'll
be familiar with the situation that they're actually quite difficult to get rid of once you've got them
because they're so prolific. The edible part is a tuber under the ground. You need to think of
them really as very like a potato plant. They grow like a potato. So once you've planted them –
and we planted some last year, and I have just left them in the ground that year for those tubers
to spread, and this year we shall dig and bring some of them up – and by pure chance without
me trying I'm certain that there will be some left behind and they will grow every year. So literally
it's just the case of harvesting from here on in.
I planted them on the edge of our pig wood. The idea being that they'll spread into the wood as
well, and they'll be tubers for the pigs to forage for. So for us, they are a dual-purpose crop in
that way.

Rhubarb

And the final one is rhubarb. Rhubarb is a fantastic plant. It is so generous. We inherited a
couple of plants when we moved here. They're huge and those two plants alone produce
enough rhubarb for us to meet our needs all year round, but also, sell a reasonable amount at
the side of the road. So rhubarb's a great cropping plant.
We've also picked up five or six small crowns from Freecycle someone who wanted them
cleared. So we took them and I've place them somewhere else. We're going to leave them
another year, but that will give us another source of rhubarb because we can't meet the demand
we've got at our little shop at the side of the road. So we're going to have a lot more to sell next
year, hopefully.

Vines / Fruits

The next section is Vines. Fruit trees and berries Berry bushes, and things like that. Now here you really are spoiled for choice. A lot of them I’m sure you’ll be familiar with.

As always. I’m talking about a temperate climate, so things might change slightly based on where you are. As you’re aware, I’m in the UK. So do a bit of research on what the best varieties of these things are for you. Something to be aware of whenever you’re planting a fruit tree or a Vine or something like that, is you need to make sure if you’re only planting one that it’s self-pollinating.

So for instance, we have a kiwi here. I can’t remember the name of the variety. But the variety we chose was specifically one that would (a.) grow in our temperate climate, but (b.) would be self-pollinating. So that one plant would be enough. (edit; it’s the variety Jenny)

So I’ve mentioned kiwi. Another great one is grapes. These are something else that we acquired. They were already here. They were actually in a bit of overgrown land and we didn’t know they were there. We cut it all back and while I was debating what to do with it the following spring, these Grape Vines shot up. And I’ve just recently in the last few days built a structure for them to grow up and over. So we’ve inherited those.

We all know about the (what I’m going to call) the standard Garden variety of fruit. We’re talking apples, pears, plums, and that kind of thing. So one thing to be aware of is that you should be able to dry these. So we dry an awful lot of our fruit. We have more than enough from each of our trees to supply our needs. And we get lots of these when they’re in season. So we tend to dry them and that keeps us going through the winter. You can also freeze them and can them.

We’ve got lots of berries and I’ve acquired most of our berries from freecycle for free. So I’m very very happy about that. We’ve got red currants, blackcurrant, gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries. And these are plants again that will come back every single year. They’re great for the kids. Again, we tend to have gluts of these, and they freeze really well. So that’s how we tend to preserve our berries. We also make a lot of cordials, jams, preserves, and fruit leathers. If you’re not familiar with fruit leather, it’s basically this – you make it very similar to a jam – and then you spread it out very thin on a piece of greaseproof paper. Or at least this is how I do it. And then we put In the dehydrator and you can either leave it as it is, smash it into pieces, or cut it into strips. And it’s like a chewy sweet – my kids absolutely love it.

Nuts

The next section I wanted to talk to you about with regards to edible perennials is nuts. Now hazelnuts are very prolific. They’re so easy to go foraging for. We didn’t have anywhere locally to us that had lots of hazelnuts for me to forage. And when I say local, I mean within walking distance of the property. So what I have done is I’ve planted a load of hazelnuts that I foraged from slightly further away and we’ve got about 15 little Hazel plants growing now, They’re going to take a few years before they crop but thinking long-term, I’m quite comfortable with that. We’ve bought an almond tree, and we acquired a nicely established black walnut tree. So we’ve got hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts here.

One thing to be aware of with nuts is squirrels. It’s very very difficult to stop the squirrels from getting there first. So you’ve got three options. If your trees are small enough, you can net the whole tree out. That’s quite tricky and not always practical. It can make your own harvesting difficult. So that’s option one. Option two is obviously pest control which you can do with traps or an air rifle. And option 3, which is quite ingenious – and I’ve tried it this year, so I’ll have to let in the Autumn how it went. This is something I found online. I can’t remember where I got it so I can’t quote the source, unfortunately. But if you bury a little four-inch pipe under the ground next to the tree and leave one end slightly exposed chances are the squirrels will find it and all he’s looking for is somewhere to hide his nuts. So he will use that to hide the nuts for himself. At which point, you can let him do the harvesting for you and then come along and take the nuts.

Now, I suggest that you look at this one of two ways. There are only two ways to do it humanely. I don’t think it’s particularly humane to let a squirrel starve to death in the middle of winter. So in my opinion, and you want to do one of two things, you want to do this along with a pest control measure. So you are actively ending the squirrels as humanely as possible alongside this, or what I’m going to do is I’m just going to take half the nuts. So I think that’s a fair deal. I’m growing nuts for the squirrel. He’s harvesting them for me and we split the produce. We’ll have to see how that works out.

Mushrooms

The last and final thing is mushrooms. And you can buy impregnated plugs that are impregnated with the spores of things like oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane mushrooms, etc. But if you’re a bit of a forager, like I am, you can actually find your own mushrooms and bring them back and leave them to drop their spores on the logs yourself. This is particularly good with oyster mushrooms. Oysters are very prolific at propagating their spores. So they are great ones to find in the wild, bring back, and allow to propagate your own logs.

So there you go. There is my rundown of the really important edible perennials – the ones that come to my mind straight away for ones that you should be thinking about and finding room for if you can.

4: Episode 4- Livestock 101

An overview of the different types of livestock you should consider for becoming self sufficient. We talk about goats, chickens, pigs and many more… Which animals are going to be best for your needs and how to keep your feed costs close to or even at zero!

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Transcript:

Livestock 101

Now, we've got a nice big garden where we live. So we're able to raise pigs, goats, geese,
chickens, and sheep. We're very very lucky here. And today, I'm just going to run through all the
benefits of keeping livestock, which ones you should get started out with, how you can reduce
your feed costs, and all the benefits and products that they give us.

What Livestock to Start Out With

Pigs

So to start with: pigs. We're very lucky. We've got a piece of woodland on the edge of our
property that we've got fenced in. So we keep pigs in there. Now the main product that we get
from pigs is obviously meat (pork), and we find that somewhere between two and three pigs a
year is just about right for our family's needs (a family of five). Up to and including this year,
what we've done is we've bought in weaners, which are piglets that are old enough to be
separated from mum quite happily. And we've basically bread them on, fattened them up, and
slaughtered them for meat.

So two things to say about that. Firstly, ethically. Now every animal including pigs on our
homestead are given the very best life that they can have. I've got no ethical conundrum in my
head about whether or not these pigs had a nice life. They absolutely had a net positive life. And
they are free to range over an acre and a half of woodland, just a few of them foraging around,
having acorns that fall in the autumn and just having an absolute perfect existence while they're
with us. Everything we do is as humane as possible, and that includes the transportation and
what have you. So ethically I've got a clear conscience there.
Another thing just to think about with pigs is that they're very easy to fence off, if you use
electric. They're very respectful of an electric fence. They also don't jump, so one or two strands
of electric fence quite low down, they'll learn where it is very quickly and they'll never test it. So
that's a great thing with pigs.
Another thing with our pigs is that we're able to keep our food costs down to pretty much zero.
We do that in a number of ways. I'm going to go into food costs later on in this post and go
through all the ways that we keep our food bill very very low.

Sheep

The second animal is sheep. Now, we have one sheep, which is a pet. So strictly speaking, she
doesn't fit into the self-sufficient model very well. She's a bit of an outlier. There's a whole story
behind how we got her, but ultimately, she's my daughter's pet.
Now raising lambs for meat, there are two ways to go about it. The first is the same way as we
have done up until recently with the pigs, and that is to buy in lambs. Now the advantage of
doing this is that most lamb production farms have quite a number of orphaned lambs every
spring. These are lambs whose mothers have died during childbirth or whose mothers have
rejected them. And they just don't have the capacity and the manpower to deal with them all.
So, we bought our lamb as an orphaned lamb two days old or one-day old for just £10. So
they're very very economic to get hold of if you do it that way.
The other way obviously is to have your own breeding flock. Now, the only reason I personally
would warn against this and why we haven't looked into it, is just because of the high mortality
rate with sheep breeding. Or at least this has been my understanding from what I've learned.
And the high level of care and maintenance and man hours required around lambing time to
mitigate that. So personally we’re not planning on breeding our lamb but what we do do is save
the wool. My wife processes the world and uses it use it to knit with. So she's not completely
useless insofar as providing something, but she doesn't really pay her way. Like I said, she's
more of a pet on our homestead.
But in the future, having orphaned lambs and keeping them for a season is something we would
certainly consider. It really depends on how we manage the ground here and what capacity we
have on our grass.

Goats

Which brings me nicely on goats. Now goats are an amazing animal because, not only do they
produce food in goat meat, but they also provide us with milk. Now if you're considering getting
goat, so I strongly suggest that you have at least one milking goat.

Now different breeds are good for different things. We have milking goats. That is the entirety of
our heard here. We've got three adult females as I speak now, and we've got four kids. Of the
kids, we have one male and three females. So the male kid will be castrated very soon. And he
will be living with us for almost a year, and then he will go to slaughter and be meat. And the
females will either go with him or they may go into our milking herd. But I've got to be honest,
three is plenty. Just one of our goats Fern, our top producer, she produces comfortably 12 pints
of milk a day when she's milking. So we don't really need any more than three.
The beauty of milk obviously though is that it also produces butter, cream, ice cream, cheese,
and all of the dairy products. So that's great. They are a really vital part of our self-sufficient plan
here.

Cows

The next item I want to talk about is cows. Now people that I know who raise cows, they tend to
do it the same way. I’ve spoke about with the pigs and the sheep, which is just a buy in calfs at
a cheap cost and keep them for a season.
Personally, that's the only way we would do it. We don’t have the space here to be breeding
cows. But also in terms of a dairy cow, you need about four times the amount of ground to keep
a cow as you do a goat. And to us that's just not practical. So we're quite happy with our goats

for our dairy product, and we are generating plenty of meat already. So we don't have the need
for a cow.
We do sometimes trade some of our pork or goat meat for beef with other people living locally
that are doing similar things to us but do keep cows, but I don't have a lot of experience with
cows. So I don't really have a lot to add here.
All I would say is that if you're considering getting a cow, and you don't have goats, certainly
think very hard, do a comparison, and you may find it's much easier and simpler for you to keep
goats or a goat than a cow.

Rabbit

The next animal for meat is rabbit. Now we don't have rabbits here, but it's something I'm very
keen to experiment with in the coming months and years. So I will certainly keep you up-to-date
with that. Rabbits are, from what I can tell, a fantastic source of meat, easy to process, and easy
to breed. We all know they breed like rabbits, so there's that!

Chickens

And the final animal I want to talk to you about is chickens. Now chickens are an absolute
essential part of any homestead, in my opinion. You get different breeds for meat than you do
for eggs, but everybody's first step when they're considering animals is (or should) be egg
chickens.

The reason for that is because every family I know eats eggs, so you've got that straight off the
bat. But also, it's very easy to over produce eggs, and then they are also the easiest thing to
sell. So, when you're starting to try and produce an income from your homestead, and you're
maybe thinking about putting an advert in the paper or building a little stall at the side of the
road, eggs are by far the easiest thing to monetize. I certainly think that egg chickens should be
everybody's first step to animals.
Now we are lucky insofar as we've got about a hundred egg-laying chickens here and the sales
of those eggs actually pay for every piece of animal feed we have to buy here. Everything else
is effectively generated for free apart from obviously the time commitment that it takes.

Ducks and Geese

A brief mention for ducks and geese. Now goose eggs are very very easy to sell. We sell them
for £2 per egg fertilized – or advertised as fertilized to people who want to put them in incubators
or have a broody animal to sit them. But we also sell them at one pound fifty at the side of the
road for just general sales, and they sell very well. So, our geese pay for themselves. I'm not
sure they do more than that. But a byproduct of geese is obviously meat. What we do is, when

one of our geese goes Broody, we just allow her to do her own thing. And any of the goslings
that come on, they can be for the table. So that's the profit there if you like.
And Ducks very much the same. The only thing is you need to be a bit more careful keeping
them safe.

Things to Consider Before Getting an Animal

Now, I want to leave you with a few other points for you to do before you go and get yourself an
animal particularly a large animal.

Research

The first thing is: do your own research. Spend a lot of time digging into exactly what you're
getting, why are you getting it? What do they need? Are you ready? and everything else. It’s
certainly what we did before we got any animal, and I'm glad I did.

Infrastructure

I cannot tell you how important it is to get the infrastructure in place before you have the animal.
Now, this is a golden rule that I have frequently broken in the past, and I'm really quite strict with
myself now not to do so because I've paid the price.
If you need fencing of a certain type, get the fencing before you get the animal. If you need
housing or whatever else you need to have in place, get that in place. It really is super important
because trying to do it when you've got the animal makes it 5x harder because you've already
added to your workload because now you're looking after the animal. But chances are you're
actually having more workload than you otherwise would because the animal isn't being housed
as perfectly as you might like.

Find a Mentor

Next thing I want to say, if it's at all possible, find yourself a mentor. And it doesn't have to be a
formal arrangement, but find yourself someone, hopefully locally – but if not online in a forum or
somewhere – someone who's done what you want to do. And just talk to them. Talk to them
before and during the process. It really is quite helpful just to know that there's someone there
the other end of a keyboard or a phone, if you need it – even if you never do.

Find a Vet

Next thing is that, if you're getting big animals – less important with the smaller animals if you're
a little bit more experience – but if you're getting anything bigger than a chicken or a goose, I
think it's really quite important to meet your local farm vet. Have them come to your property as
soon as you get your animals. If nothing else, in my experience what that did is it opened up a
line of communication. I now have our local vets’ mobile number, and nine times out of ten, I can resolve any issue with a quick phone call. I was actually on the phone yesterday to the vet
about an issue with our sheep and just being able to call her on her mobile (which she is quite
happy to take) saved me a visit and potentially 70-200 pounds for a vet to come out, which
wasn't needed after the phone call.

Consider the Legislation in Your Area

That's almost everything. I've got to say for our overview of raising livestock and animals. A few
last points are, just make sure you consider if you're raising animals for meat, make sure you
consider the legislation in your area. Do you need to register the movement of your cattle? Do
you need to register that you're holding certain types of animal? Do you need a certain vehicle
to take them to the butchery? Where are you going to take them to be butchered? Things like
that. Have you got the transport you need to move them? If not, what are your arrangements?
These are all just things to think about before you jump in.

Feed for Your Livestock

And finally, I just want to have a quick chat about feed, and feed costs. Now, we get our feed
costs down to pretty close to zero and we do that with four different ways I would suggest. The
first is we are able to generate most of our feed here on site, and we do that by way of grazing.
So having grass available for the goats and the geese but also our hedging and trees that we
trim back. That is all feed for the goats and obviously waste food from the kitchen, small in
amount as it may be, that obviously doesn't go in the compost. It goes to the animals, and the
animal that gets it will depend on the type of food waste. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is we have a bakery within a hundred yards of our house. So, we save them
refuse costs that they would have to pay to have someone come and take away all the leftover
bread at the end of the day. And generally, what happens when they finished baking certain
type of bread, there's a pile of dough left over. They bang that in the oven because it's easier for
them to get rid of that way. So effectively we get all the leftover cooked dough by way of bread.
Thirdly fruit and veg grocers. We have an organic fruit and veg greengrocer locally. And we do
the same, we take away all their produce that they haven't sold that has just gone past the point
where they are willing to display and sell it to their customers. We bring that back here, and that
makes up a large portion of particularly the pigs’ food.
And finally, microbreweries. There's a microbrewery not too far from our house and we are able
to take some of their spent grain.
So, between those four methods there really is a very little feed that we need to go out and
purchase.

Conclusion

For me, that is the crux of self-sufficiency. It's a combination of balancing your outgoings with
your in goings. Making sure that you can be generating as much as you can to supplement
whatever it is you're bringing in, and making that cycle work.

2: Episode 2 – Starting a vegetable garden – which plants should I grow first?

I go through a run down of the top ten plants I recommend to start out your vegetable garden, along with some planting and growing tips

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Transcript:

Starting a Vegetable Garden – Which
Plants Should I Grow First?

We're going to be talking exclusively about growing your own food. So in my previous posts, I
mentioned that there are three arms towards our food self-security and one of those was plants.
And the biggest part of plant production in the food that we eat is our vegetable garden. Now,
it's not the only part. It's also supplemented with edible perennials that we have growing here,
for instance, our fruit and berries and also some foraging, but it's the most important part to get
right because it's the part you can rely on not letting you down. But it's also the part that you
need to put the most work into.
So it's definitely the place to start. It's the only part of our food self-reliance puzzle where we can
actually put the pieces in place today and be reaping the rewards of that in just a few week’s
time. There are some vegetables that go from seed to harvest in less than six weeks. So it's
absolutely the place to start if you're just starting out in food self-sufficiency now.

Which Plants You Should Grow First When Starting a Vegetable
Garden

Potatoes

So what I'm going to do today is I'm going to run through just several of the vegetables that I
personally feel are the most important ones to get you going. And we're going to start with
potatoes.

Why potatoes? Well, potatoes make up a huge part of our diet in my family, and if we are going
to move towards complete food self-sufficiency, which we currently are, (what I mean by that is,
due to the current state of supermarkets and supply chains here in the UK. We're not planning
on getting any food from any outside source for the foreseeable future). Therefore, we're having
to rely even more on potatoes than we already did. Potatoes make up a massive part of our
diet. They fulfill the starchy carbohydrate part of our diet in most meals. So potatoes are also,
fortunately, one of the easiest things to grow. Now you can buy seed potatoes but really all seed
potatoes are, they’re just potatoes that have been left to sprout. So get your hands on any
potatoes that are ready to plant (and they can be ones that you've had in your cupboard for a
little bit longer than you would have liked), and once you see those little shoots coming out,
they’re ready to go in the ground.
Now every potato you plant is going to give you upwards of between 6 and 12 new potatoes. So
obviously I could do a whole episode just on potatoes just like I could any of these vegetables.
But today it's just an overview of the ones you need to be thinking about getting in and potatoes
for me is top of the list. It's the one plant I'm going to talk to you about today that we literally
couldn't do without.
Now, the easiest way to plant potatoes is you just dig a small hole in the ground, literally just
enough to put the potato in, and then we cover that over with some mulch. That could be almost
anything. We use wood chips, compost, straw, and anything that we've got lying around. We
tend to mulch our vegetable beds quite heavily and that mulch is what breaks down into next

year's compost. So we literally cut a slit in the ground deep enough for the potato to grow in and
then we cover it over with some wood chip and wait to see what happens.
And what will happen is the potato plant will shoot up. We'll get lots of leaves. And what you
want to do is you keep adding whatever it is that you're using to mulch with. You keep adding
that and covering over, covering over, covering over, and what will happen is your new potatoes
will actually grow in that loose mulch on top, so that when it comes time to harvest you don't
need the back-breaking job of digging down a spades depth cutting through potatoes with your
fork and all the agonizing work that's involved in that. All the potatoes are going to be in that
loose stuff straight on top. They're super easy to harvest that way. There are lots and lots of
information and videos online about no-dig gardening and I strongly suggest you have a look at
those because It is by far the easiest way to grow potatoes.

Beans and Peas

The next thing I'm going to suggest is beans and peas, but particularly beans. Beans because
they go in super early. They can go in before the last frost has gone and they're also super
reliable. We like broad beans. We always plant a few broad bean plants, but we also plant
runner beans and French beans, and we find the best thing about beans is once you get them
in, they’re super easy they’re super reliable, and they're going to crop for a long time. We've got
a family of five here: me, my wife, and my three children. And we will probably have somewhere
in the region of six broad bean plants, maybe 10 French bean plants, and six runner bean
plants, and that will pretty much give us all the beans we need to get us through the summer
and an excess that will freeze and keep for the winter, so they're just a great plant – really easy.

Beetroot

The next one I want to talk to you about is beetroot. Now when I was growing up – I'm 41- and
when I was a child, beetroot meant pickled sliced beetroot. It was not nice. No one liked it. I
don't know anyone that enjoyed it. It was this horrible bright purple sickly mess of a food. But
that's not what beetroot is. We grow our own, and everybody in my family myself included
absolutely loves it. We love it raw in salads. We love it baked, as a regular vegetable to go with
the roast dinners., It really is worth it. If you have only had as I had only had until fairly recently,
that horrible pickled beetroot – or if you've not had beetroot before – make sure you grow some.
They're a fantastic plant.

Another thing with beetroot, again they’re super easy and they're quite a quick crop. What we
do is literally just, with a hoe, pull a very shallow line in the soil of the vegetable bed. We cover
that over with a layer of compost, I'm talking maybe an inch thick. And then we cover that over
with our mulch. That's it. And in eight to 12 weeks our first beetroot will be ready to crop. They
are a really easy plant and super tasty. I highly recommend them.

Carrots

The fourth one on my list is carrots. Now carrots will basically take the route of least resistance,
so my top tip for planting carrots is to get yourself a crowbar, and when you're planting your
carrots, you just push the crowbar down into the soil. And you basically make a pilot hole for
your carrot. And you go down as far as you expect the character grow, plus a bit. Then you fill
that hole with really uncompacted compost and then you put your carrot seed on top. And then
your carrot will form this beautiful round long shape and you won't have any of the problems
associated with hard ground that you can have with carrots.
Another great way to grow carrots, I found, is we use a large plastic container with holes in the
bottom. You could use just a regular bucket, and we sow carrot seeds on the top and we fill that
with just loosely-packed compost. And again, because it's so loose, the carrots are quite happy

to just mow down through there. They form great shaped plants and I thin them out as I go. So
we start with baby carrots and then as we go through the season the remaining ones get bigger
and bigger.

Turnips

The next crop I've got on here is turnips. And again, the purpose of turnips is they're just such
an easy thing to grow. You plant them in much the same way as you do beetroot. They are a
super quick crop, super easy. I've never had any problems growing turnips. The downside is
they're not as appetizing to me and my family as most of the other vegetables. We still grow
them because they make great fodder for our animals, but we also Harvest them when they're
young (like golf-ball-sized) cooked whole, when they're actually nice and tasty.

Kale

The next crop I've got on here is kale. And kale is slightly unusual compared to everything else
I'm talking about today in that it can be grown as a perennial. So once it's planted in its row, it
will just grow year on year and it's a cut and come again crop that you can Harvest all year
round. And so again, it's super easy to grow and it can be used as a salad or as a leafy
vegetable like spinach.

Lettuce

Next, we've got lettuce. Now, lettuce I have found aren't quite as easy to grow because they are
more frost-sensitive than some of the other things I've mentioned but also, they've got more
pests. They are the caviar to anything that you imagine would eat grass or leafy vegetables. Any
of the pests that you have – so caterpillars, bugs – they're going to love your lettuce, so they do
need protection. There are several ways you can do it. We tend to just use a little net that we
put over our row, but the reason I've included lettuce here is that if you can keep the pests off
them and you get your timings right, so you avoid the frost, they're a great crop and quite easy
to grow. But also, they're so versatile. They make up a massive portion of our salads.

Courgettes

The next plant is another very very special one. And that is courgettes. Now courgettes are
another easy-to-grow plant. We start them in our polytunnel in little pots and then plant them out
when all the risk of frost has gone. But the reason courgettes are so great is that they are such
a prolific plant. We planted just four courgette plants last year and that gave my family of five all
the courgette we could eat in the summer along with all that we’d need to freeze to get us
through the winter. And we also had spare that we sold at our little shop on the side of the road
just from four plants. I've planted six this year and that is based on the current world climate and
the fact that we're expecting to have quite a bit more demand at the side of the road than we
usually do. So we've planted a few extra, but there's no way in the world we'd be able to eat that
many.

Tomatoes

The next crop is tomatoes. Tomatoes make my list because they're such a useful plant. They
are great for making sauces. They're great in salads. If you want that sweet flavor. They're a
great vegetable all around and they're actually quite easy to grow. Once you get them going,
they're really easy to grow. Now, there are several varieties of tomato, so look out for what
grows well in your area. Some will grow outside, and some will need to be protected. We tend to
grow ours in our polytunnel purely because we just get such vigorous cropping from them that
way.

Now you don't need a polytunnel, but if you did want to get one, the one I've got is only small.
It's about 4 or 5 meters long, a couple of meters wide, and I can just about stand up in it. And I
don't know how much I paid for it, but it was certainly under 200 pounds. I think it was around a
hundred pounds. You don't need one of these vast commercial Polytunnels. You really don't.

Leeks

The last crop I've got is leeks. Leeks I've got on here because, once you've got them
established, they're really easy. They take care of themselves and it's a long season crop. So
you get your seeds in now and you're going to be cropping them at the other end of the year, so
it's good to give some thought now to the long-term cropping plants.

Final Thoughts

So that's my list of recommendations. If you're only going to plant 10 plants, plant those 10. And
hopefully, you'll see some really good results. It's not too late. It's a perfect time. Please get
them in.
There are a couple of side issues whenever we're talking about vegetable plots and that is
having some protected space – so a polytunnel or a greenhouse – and the second one is
compost. We’re always talking about compost. Now, we're going to go into those categories in
more depth in subsequent blogs and podcasts, but I just wanted to say, you need to start
making your own compost.

It's the easiest thing in the world. No one should be putting food waste out with their bins. No
one should be wasting grass cuttings or ash from their fire. When they clean their animals out,
all these things make great compost components whenever you're trimming your hedges, etc,
etc. So we'll go into that in a lot more detail in subsequent blogs and podcasts, but please do
start thinking about a compost pile and also start thinking about whether or not you want to
invest in a polytunnel or some greenhouse, or better still, make your own. Again, we'll talk about
that in a future post.

1: Episode 1 – First steps toward food security

Here I talk a little about broad strokes towards personal food security. What elements make up our food self sufficiency, and what you can do now, to make steps towards your own food security in the future.

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Transcript:

First steps toward food security

As we've seen in these recent days and weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic that's swept the
globe, so many people all of a sudden don't have food security and feel insecure. They have
food insecurity, and that's what's led to the runs on the supermarkets and people stockpiling.
Well, I'm very fortunate we haven't had to do that. We produce almost all of our food here at our
home and we certainly can produce all our food. We can choose to live off what we produce
rather than buying some things from the supermarket which we obviously usually used to do. I
wanted to talk about how you can look towards becoming more self-sufficient and developing
your own food security.

I look at food security very simply broken down into three different categories. Firstly is plants I
can grow. But also foraging. The second one is meat – i.e. meat that I can raise. And the third
one is dairy and eggs. So I'm going to very quickly just talk about each of those three categories
and then over the coming days and weeks, we will obviously go into them in much more detail
and lots of other things.

How to Take the First Steps Toward Food Security

1. Plants

One thing, if you're panicking right now and you're not sure what the future looks like and you're
nervous and you're worried you've missed the boat, you haven't. It's spring. It's the perfect time
to be putting your plants in. Now, obviously, I'm in the UK and we're still not quite out of the risk
of frost yet, so there's still some seeds I can't plant. You haven't missed the boat. You've got
plenty of time. Get on and get yourself a vegetable bed. You won't regret it. And I can assure
you that any mistakes you make, you'll learn more from those mistakes than you will by not
trying. So just get out and give it a go. It's definitely worth it.

The first really simple step everyone can do is plant some vegetables. Now, what I did when I
first grew a vegetable bed is I sat down and made a list of all the vegetables I could think of and
I basically went for things that my family eats a lot of but also things that are super easy to grow.
Beetroot is a good example. We didn't really eat beetroot in our family, but it's super easy to
grow, so we grew some and now it's a firm favorite. All my kids love it. We love it in salads. We
love it cooked. So do try a few new things, but just do your own research and find the things that
are easy to grow in your area and find the things that your family love and get them growing.
Potatoes are one of the staples for us. We eat quite a lot of potatoes and in the coming weeks
and months, we might be substituting a lot of our cereal and pasta and that kind of thing for
potatoes because it's the one thing we can grow here. We can't grow our own cereal or, at least,
we're not geared up to do that just yet, so I strongly suggest that you include potatoes in your
list. They're super easy to grow. And hang around for the end of this post for a really top tip on
potatoes.
Beans are really easy, beetroots are really easy. If you've got a greenhouse or a polytunnel
tomatoes are really easy. You can also grow tomatoes on a windowsill inside. Get yourself
some seeds and it's not too late. I promise you won't regret it. Please get them in.

2. Foraging

Second thing, having spoken about plants briefly, I also do quite a bit of foraging. I forage for
mushrooms, I forage for all sorts of salad greens and then, when the season’s right a bit later,
it'll be fruit, berries, and nuts. Please check out the upcoming podcasts around that time of year
because we'll be covering all of those things in much more detail. I've also got lots of videos on
YouTube covering a lot of my mushroom foraging.

3. Meat

Apart from plants, the next thing on my list was to raise meat now. There are three animals I
raise here. Two of them are not really for meat, but meat is a byproduct. And one of them is
specifically for meat. I'm going to go through them briefly here.

Pigs are one animal I raise solely for meat. Until very recently, what we did is we buy two or
three piglets a year and we raise them here on our property. Then we slaughter butcher them
and then they go in the freezer. And two to three pigs a year is about right for our needs.
However, what we're going to do in the future, and I've been speaking to my wife about this just
yesterday and we've made this decision in the last 24 hours, we're not going to be bringing in
piglets anymore. We're going to keep one of our gilts, the female pigs, and we're going to breed
her. We're going to keep a male and a female and we're going to breed our own pigs. It is
slightly more work. It means we're going to have to keep two pigs over winter, which we don't

normally do. But I think for food security, it makes so much more sense than buying in piglets
every year.
I recommend pigs. Two reasons I recommend pigs: one is there are lots of ways that you can
make up their food costs from next to nothing. You don't need to buy a lot of pig food. You can
make it up from lots of other ways. I'll go into that in a lot more detail on another episode. And
the other reason is they're very respectful of one strand electric fence so they're really easy to
contain. Pigs are super smart and once they know where the fence is, that's it. They won’t go
near it.
The next animal is goats. Now goats we keep predominantly for dairy, but a byproduct of the
dairy is obviously meat. Every year our milking goats are bred and the kids will either go on to
replace an animal in the milking herd or they will go to meat. And then the third animal is
chickens. Now again, we breed chickens for eggs, but the byproduct of breeding for eggs is you
get a fair amount of cock birds, which again we raise up and that is meat for the freezer. A small
way I supplement this is by taking wild pheasants and also, fish. We have crayfish in the river,
so I trap crayfish. There are a few other ways that we gain meat for our freezer. But across the
board, we're very much self-sufficient on meat.

4. Dairy and Eggs

The final category was dairy and eggs. Now, dairy and eggs are covered by what I believe are
the first two animals you should get if you're considering going down the animal route to self-
sufficiency.
The first one is chickens. Chicken should be everyone's first animal. They're so easy to look
after. Three hens in the back garden are going to produce maybe ten to fifteen eggs a week
unless they're a real egg-laying breed and then you might get as many as 20 eggs a week. So
that's eggs for a family taken care of. They’re great pets. They're great for kids. They're really
easy to breed. They're fun to have around. And of course, if you're going to breed them then
you've got the byproduct of the meat as well.

The second animal that I recommend for anyone looking at going into self-sufficiency is goats,
and that's because milking goats produce tons of milk. If you have two milking goats, you're
going to be producing far more milk than a family needs, if they are a decent milking variety.
And that enables you to produce cheese, butter, cream, ice cream, all those things. So we're
completely egg and dairy self-sufficient.
Conclusion
So those are my first thoughts on becoming self-sufficient in regard to food security. Get
yourself a vegetable garden. You really must do that. If you've only got a tiny outdoor space, get
a little run, get some hens in it. They don't need much space. And that puts you significantly
further ahead than 95% of the population. So it's not too late. Everyone should take stock, think
about where they are, and what they can do to look after their families and feel more secure
about where their food is coming from, not just today or tomorrow, but into the future.