Todays questions are all to do with the Lavender side of things and our 'self-sufficiency' drive.
The first question concerning Lavender was from the lovely Helen. The Lavender part of our lives is a follow on from my previous business a tiny little shop (the smallest shop in Ulverston, Cumbria and probably the smallest shop in the Lake District) called Lavender's Blue that I owned for a year before we moved.
When we decided to 'go' for this huge lifestyle change we had to re-locate to an area nearer to Lovely Hubby's main workplace which is in the South of England, so my lovely little shop had to close, I could not, however, give up my obsession with lavender and all its loveliness, so I had to find a way to incorporate it into farming. And the obvious solution......have a stall at the local Farmers Markets selling it and all it's derivatives.
When we first moved onto the farm, we quickly planted a bed of lavender, then we got the chickens and they promptly ate the lot. So I had to continue to buy in a lot of my stock for last year. We have now got an established nursery bed of lavender which we will split and harvest this year.
To answer Sally's questions we have planted 5 different varieties of lavender, we plant as and when we get new plants all through the summer. Lavender likes a very poor sandy soil so we had to add lots of sand to our luscious farm soil to make it freer draining and lighter. Apart from a bit of weeding it needs no attention and don't be tempted to water it too much!
I harvest it when the flowers are just starting to open, and it is usually left to dry around the Aga for a couple of days, mostly hung upside down, but I do pick bunches to stand in vases around the house. Put them in a centimetre of water and once they have drunk this don't replenish it, they will slowly dry out and be ready for using. The second method gives a paler, more faded flower. Experimentation is the only way to go sometimes it will work and sometimes it doesn't each variety varies slightly. Use your judgement.
My most challenging part of chicken keeping was our Red Mite problem, it made for a hard working couple of weeks while we eradicated them, and I am in no doubt they will be back this year, but I am now armed to teeth with the remedies!! Don't worry about your dog, we have two dogs, a 10 year old Border Collie who had never seen a chicken before in her life, and a Jack Russell puppy and they both quickly learnt to respect the birds, although the Collie does like to 'round up' the Welsummers over and over again! The cats too have just accepted the chickens and one of our cats is a brilliant hunter, even managing to catch a hawk last year. Protect your veg well from the chickens they will eat through a whole patch in a couple of hours!
Still briefly on the theme of chickens....a question from spiceyapplepie (what a brilliant name for a Blog) asked if my chickens bully me. Now normally I would have said a firm NO, but last night I was pecked by a Welsummer!! Serves me right for not watching her whilst I was counting the others into bed. I suppose if a giant head popped in your bedroom you'd want to attack it!
Normally I am very firm with them, if they show signs of getting stroppy I pick them up, hold them firmly under my arm and give them a good talking to as I'm walking along with them. Then I put them down in a place of MY choosing and they seem to get the message and then I can quite rightly retake my role as Head Chicken. If I am working in the Henhouse for any length of time they do come in and shout at me, but I let them get away with this as I am on their territory and it is only normal. Usually we can be seen as a bit of a convoy with me working and walking around the farm followed closely by a couple of chickens...very 'Pied Piper' to look at!
And now finally, Vanessa (oooh you live in Keswick....I miss the Lake District SO much) asked about costings and our self-sufficent lifestyle. Yes, amazingly even in our first year we saved a fortune by growing our own vegetables and fruit. My main part of a trip to the supermarket had always been the fresh foods section and in the height of summer last year I was astounded to find myself wandering around the fruit and veg section saying, aloud , "got that, got that, got that", and finally buying only a bunch of bananas and a tub of Blueberries (that should be sorted this year though...the blueberry bit that is!).
We grew and stored sack loads of potatoes and onions, and didn't have to start buying either again until just before Christmas and we had been using our own from June. With a bit of careful planning and better storage we should be able to expand on that this year.
So the only things we had to buy last year was washing products, pet foods and the protein parts of meals, chicken, fish and meat, oh and lots of pasta, flours and tinned tomatoes. I usually make at least a couple of loaves a week and do a bit of home baking when the mood strikes me. We don't go without anything though and if we really fancy something different we will go out for a meal. You do find though, that once you've been eating your own produce you really expect the best when you go out and we have come away disappointed many a time.
Of course I never have to buy eggs now , the chickens are completely self-financing as we sell surplus eggs at Farmers Markets.
Our heating bills are lower because we have the open fire which we burn wood from around the farm on, and the central heating can be on lower and for less time as the Aga does a good job of heating the house. We don't need a tumble dryer because again, the Aga does that for us too. Another area we will save on this year is seeds as we saved lots of seeds from our favourite plants and veggies last year to grow this.
I hope this has touched on most of what you wanted to know, if I have missed anything out please send more questions. I will have one more day of questions tomorrow and then will do the draw for the Goody Bag on Thursday.
Tomorrows answers will be on Produce. the Polytunnel and the Future....., if you want to add to this drop a comment today.