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Newsletter – Summer/Autumn 2014

Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group

Newsletter – Summer/Autumn 2014

CSSG Visit To The Green Backyard

by Mick Matthews

On the 3rd July members made their way to The Green Backyard in Peterborough.

Five years ago this was a derelict allotment site ear marked for development.

Renee Fontinelli and his team have transformed this into a green oasis in the middle of Peterborough. The site stretches from the entrance on Oundle road back to the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and sits along side East cost mainline railway, with London road forming the other boundry.

The site consists of the main hub a large wooden building constructed from mainly recycled materials this is a large comfy place with cooking facilities on our first visit to set up our group meeting they were holding a drum work shop in here. Outside there are various beds growing all sorts of fruit and veg. they have two large pens one for rabbits including a huge rabbit and one for chickens and turkeys.

There is a large wildlife pond a collection of raised beds plus a newly planted orchard area with a wild flower meadow. You willl find a 1940’s Anderson shelter and some creative people have produced various works of art from and figures from car exhausts etc.

There is also a clay pizza oven we were going away the next day and I had not had time to make any pizzas so Renee knocked some up there and then using the biggest Basil leaves I have ever seen Renee also made the most amazing platter of green salad leaves from the garden and studded it with edible flowers it looked amazing and far to good to eat but eat it we did along with all the lovelly a varied food that group members had brought along with them.

The evening was truly inspiring pleasant and relaxing and if you want to visit look at the green back yard website for details it can be found at If you visit you will get a very warm welcome.

Editor’s Note

When it comes to supermarket shopping some people enjoy it, some hate it, and others fall somewhere in between. I suppose I fall somewhere in the latter category, but as I enjoy cooking, doing the weekly shop does not really bother me as I enjoy the search for good quality food that will help me in my quest to impress in the kitchen. So then which supermarket? Well I suppose I’m a committed Sainsbury’s man but I have always had a soft spot for the Co-op as well. Maybe it’s just bringing back memories of times gone by and helping me relive those memories when I would accompany my mother on her shopping expedition before I was old enough to attend school. Those of you who were around for as long as me will remember the days when the Coop was supermarket king. They had the lowest prices, were the first to bring in self-service (Most other grocers resembled Arkwright’s store as in Open All Hours) and they had the superstores of the day stocking a wider range than the average corner shop. I also applaud the Coop’s early principles. Having started in Rochdale, the “Rochdale Pioneers “ as they were later known wanted to create a way of helping local mill workers be able to buy food that would normally be unaffordable to them by passing on profits back to their customers. A truly socialist and worthy ideal and who would have thought such humble beginnings would have grown in to such a gigantic empire. I was very concerned therefore to follow the sorry demise and problems associated with the Co-op movement. Particularly sad is their recent decision to sell off all their farms and leave the farming industry altogether. The Coop farming business has been established since 1896 and was once Britain’s largest farmer leading the way in ethical farming techniques. Now, Coop farms have become a thing of the past and were up for sale to the highest bidder. I suppose to a businessman trying to rescue a very sick business, getting the best value from the sale of assets is the understandable way forward, and there has been huge concern over who would end up purchasing the farmland, with Chinese investors being one of the favourites. Thankfully, the Wellcome Trust have stepped in and for a mere £249 million have purchased all the assets of the Cooperative farming business. This is good news as they have an impressive track record as a responsible charitable foundation and have pledged to continue running the farms with very little change to the Co-ops ethical and environmental principles. I have written a brief feature on the Co-op and its history which is on page 9 which I hope you will find interesting and in some ways, nostalgic.

As I put the finishing touches to this newsletter its the 23rd September and officially the first day of autumn. As a result I’ve decided to label this newsletter as the summer/autumn edition. Apologies if it’s come a bit late but I have had rather a busy time of it with the new (or rather old and falling down) house Mrs D. and I purchased last year and with the half acre of land, along with a job that makes me work 5 days a week, have been a bit distracted. I think we may be getting on top of it though and you can read more of my first year’s successes and failures further on in the newsletter.

Don’t forget, I do welcome contributions to the newsletter and thanks to all those who have contributed in the past. If you feel you would like to share any hints and tips, favourite recipes or any of your ideas or experiences, please do put pen to paper and send it on to me. My email address is

A to Z of Vegetables - O is for Onions

The humble onion one of the most useful of vegetables man has ever exploited, and for us British, one of the least appreciated. Ask most housewives and the onion is used in stews or casseroles and maybe with sausages and mash or occasionally as part of the steak dinner when funds allow. Now I like onions as a side dish baked, fried, raw in salads even plain boiled but since moving to the fens I have really only grown them as salad or spring onions as until recently, sacks of onions just appeared as if by magic gleaned from the local farmers crops after lifting (with their permission). This year is the first time I have grown onions in eighteen years. Big business has taken over the local farms and the owners don’t seem so approachable, plus modern land usage does not leave much time to glean it. It seemed just a matter of hours this year between the harvester leaving the field and the plough harrow going on. One wonders if the gleaners of old would have found themselves ploughed into the soil with today’s rush to get the next crop in. If that did happen mind, it would probably be the only organic matter the fields see!


Sorry I digress. Onions can be grown in two ways, from seed or from sets. The sets are just part grown onions from seed that have been specially treated. These have some advantages over seed. They are quick to grow and mature earlier, require less skill or experience and will crop well in less fertile soil. They have more tendency to bolt but are less prone to attack by onion fly or mildew. The only other disadvantage is cost and limited choice of varieties.

Seed on the other hand gives a lot of choice to the grower but are going to be a couple of weeks behind a crop grown from sets and is a good deal cheaper than sets. In this season’s Kings Catalogue average seed count is in the region of 250 for £1.30 whilst sets are 150 for £3.85. There are 15 varieties in the seed section 5 in the sets. This doesn’t include the spring or salad onions nor any of the Japanese types.

It used to be that a lot of growers kept the same piece of land for their onions from one year to the next growing crops of large solid bulbs good for storage and the prize bench. My second plot in Hainault had just such a bed and did produce good crops of onions for us for a number of years until some plot holders, myself included, started growing Japanese types in the mid eighties to plug the early summer gap. I’m certain this is what introduced white rot to the allotments of Great Britain to the point that the good old reliable onion beds have disappeared and onions are now part of the crop rotation.

Onions like a sunny well drained position that has been well manured and deeply dug. Add lime if needed. Fish blood and bone at a handful per square yard is added and raked in. Seed can be sown direct 1/2ins deep in rows 9ins apart from late February to early April. Alternately earlier sowings in trays or modules can be made in mid January for planting out in early April 4ins apart in rows 9ins apart if growing in a raised bed.


Spacings of 4ins each way are about right. Sets can be planted from mid February till the end of April the earlier planting can be in small pots in the green house. Morrisons have these in tray of 50. Plant sets leaving just the tips showing and firm the soil back around them. Keep on top of the weeds and be prepared to replant any sets that birds or frost have lifted from the soil, I like to feed with sea weed liquid just after planting and again a few weeks after. Onions require potash so comfrey liquid might be beneficial. Remove any flower heads that show as soon as possible as it won’t store. Remove and burn any deceased bulbs or bulbs that show sign of fly attack. Next year I will be trying fleece protection for my onion beds against fly. Fleece was not around when I last grew onions (that makes me sound really old) and I’m toying with the idea of comfrey mulch.

Harvesting onions can begin in the second week of July. Allow bulbs you wish to store to dry back naturally avoid bending them over this hastens ripening but also hastens rot to set in. Patience is required. Store in nets, old tights or stockings. Make ropes or use trays then keep in a cool well lit place and if you have enough they should keep to late spring. To freeze, cut into thick slices and blanch for one minute. Cool, drain and dry. They will last for a year filling the gap from stored onions to the next crop. This gap can be filled by August sown Japanese onions but I’m afraid I have an aversion to these after the Hainault experience.

Please feel free to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard to change my mind in a future newsletter. How about proving me wrong with regards to our nation’s lack of appreciation with the glorious onion by sending your onion recipes to Geoff. Go on have a go!

Mick Matthews

CSSG Bread Making Evening by Anne Smith

Pearl Smith recently hosted a CSSG meeting at which some of us made bread and pickles and we had a competition. I made two loaves, a ‘breakfast’ loaf (which won! *) and some soda bread. Here are the recipes for both and also photos of the finished loaves.

Breakfast Loaf

This is from a Nigella Lawson recipe (Nigella Express) and makes a dense loaf which is excellent with butter and marmalade.


200g sugar-free muesli

325g wholewheat bread flour 1 x 6g sachet easy blend yeast 2tsps sea salt or 1tsp table salt 250ml semi-skimmed milk and 250ml water

Mix muesli, flour, yeast and salt in a bowl and then pour in the milk and water and stir to mix. It will be like a thick porridge. Transfer to a silicone or greased 900g loaf tin (2lb tin).

Put into a COLD oven, turning on immediately to 110⁰C/gas mark ¼ and leave for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes turn the oven up to 180⁰/gas mark 4 and leave for 1 hour, by which time the bread should be golden and cooked through. The loaf should feel slightly hollow when you knock it underneath. It can be returned to the oven, out of the tin, for a few more minutes if you think it needs more.

Soda Bread

450g (1lb) plain flour

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

350 – 425ml (12 – 15 fl oz.) buttermilk or 500g (1lb 2oz) plain live yogurt

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 8 / 230⁰C / 450⁰F. Lightly grease then flour a baking sheet.

Sieve the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together.

Pour in most of the buttermilk and mix, adding more buttermilk if necessary to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out into a floured work surface and with floured hands shape it into a circle about 4cm (1½ inches) deep.

Put onto the floured baking sheet and, using a floured knife, cut a shallow cross right across the dough. Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to Gas Mark 6 / 200⁰C / 400⁰F and bake for a further 30 minutes.

To check if the bread is cooked tap the bottom and it should sound hollow.

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Tales from The Diary of a New Field Owner
by Geoff Durrant

On the 22nd August 2013 my wife Mary-Clare and I stood in the grounds of our latest acquisition. A tumbledown house in Colne which had been empty for 3 years (and neglected for about 30) and a field which extended to half an acre (sorry I still don’t relate to hectares). “What on earth have we done” was the question on our lips as we looked on at our weed infested field and the enormity of the work ahead slowly began to dawn on us. In the house too, when you take on an old property, there are always hidden things and ours was no exception. It rained the first night we spent in the house revealing several leaks in the roof and damp was penetrating through the walls. Another more amusing one (thankfully we see it that way but others may not agree), is that we knew the house was once occupied by a jack-of-all-trades builder by the name of Don Silk. He was also the village undertaker and used one of the rooms at the back of the house as a chapel of rest! (Since moving in we have often met people who had a relative or friend buried by Don and no doubt, their remains laid out in what I had started using as my study!). Anyway, as this newsletter is all about self-sufficiency and not building works, I won’t dwell on the house side of things, except to tell you the chapel of rest has now been demolished and a new extension and kitchen has taken its place.

And so to the field. Whilst it is quite an exciting prospect taking on something like that, I also felt a tremendous feeling of responsibility trying to work out what is best and not wanting to mess things up by bad planning and rushing in to things we would later regret. We had some overriding principles however which were main drivers in our decision making. These included a large area for growing vegetables, a good size lawn and garden area for our family to enjoy and also a long-held ambition, which is to have an orchard in a wild-flower meadow. In addition, we wanted to develop the land sympathetically with the environment and create a habitat for the natural world. As a result we have split the area in to three. One section for growing vegetables and keeping a few chickens and maybe a couple of pigs. Another third for grass and flower beds and the final third for fruit trees and meadow.

Having created our plan we set to work. The first thing we had to do was cultivate the land and a local farmer friend came to our aid by ploughing and rotavating the soil. A few soil tests revealed a good neutral ph but lacking in basic nutrients such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphate. The worst thing was the quality of the soil though. In some areas the topsoil consisted mostly of heavy clay. So heavy it was very difficult to dig or do anything with at all. I had never owned a plot with heavy clay before. My sister who lives in Somerset has a plot with similar ground and I often used to visit and help her with things in her garden. My heart sank a bit on thinking I would be facing some of the same difficulties she has had to endure. Undeterred however, we bought a few bags of good quality NPK fertiliser, a small rotovator and began to plant.

The fruit trees were the first to go in and then followed the fruit bushes such as blueberries, black currants and redcurrants. We also had some strawberries and raspberries. We were on quite a strict budget so I had to order a small proportion of what I finally intended to have with the aim of building up year by year by ordering more and taking cuttings.

It seemed no time at all before spring was upon us and the weather warmed up, which led to another horrible discovery regarding the clay soil. When wet, in the worst areas if you walked on it, it turns in to a ghastly stodgy mess that sticks to you boots in great hunks and the ground turns in to what can only best be described as a swamp. Leave it to get dry and it becomes so hard, you can't even get a fork in to it. The trick, it seemed, was to catch it at some sort of in-between stage after a bout of rain. Anyway still undeterred, we started to get our seeds in to trays, created some beds and sowed seed. Now I had been planning what I would grow for some time, all winter in fact, so this was a magic moment for us, finally getting to plant what I hoped would be one of my most productive seasons of growing in my whole life, and in a way, that is exactly what happened, but it was not without its failures, which I am going to freely admit, along with my successes of course.

First of all the successes. The very first thing to be eaten from the garden for the table were the potatoes. I grew around twelve varieties which were earlies, second earlies and maincrop and the first to be dug were ones from the CSSG potato day – Casablanca and Charlotte. In addition I grew a couple of other earlies from Kings called Apache and Anya which were a great success and we had so many we were giving them away. Interestingly, the Apache were grown in an area where the clay soil was at its worst, but they did very well. Charlotte also performed admirably and were of a very decent size by late June. One positive aspect of the soil however, was that I had absolutely no marks on any of the potatoes, no scab, no eelworm, no slug damage – nothing! Perfect taters, or so I thought until catastrophe struck in the spud department. Come July all the tops started to die. At first I thought it was blackleg and I took out the infected ones. Soon after, the whole maincrop started to die off. I am still not sure what caused it but I believe it was summer blight. My neighbour got it too. The crop was OK and maincrop spuds still in the ground are edible, but they are very small and I guess they stopped growing once the tops died. So euphoria over my huge potato success quickly turned to sadness as I realised things were not going to turn out quite so well. Still, to cheer us up other things were starting to work out well. My broad beans were starting to set and I have never had such a prolific crop which quickly developed and were ready to eat. I am lucky that my neighbour has four bee hives and I am sure the bees helped the fertilisation process dramatically and increased my yield. Other crops were now ready to harvest and in July we were eating French beans, onions, garlic, beetroot, lettuce, runners, courgettes, carrots, tomatoes, spinach and the fruit bushes, although newly planted, were giving us a few berries. Yet to come are leeks, brussels, turnips, sweet potatoes (not sure if they are going to work or not) pumpkins, butternut squash. So despite the soil, various things have grown in abundance and we are pleased with the results. It is clear however, that some plants are really unhappy in the clay and will need some special attention next year if they are to succeed. Despite getting a few lettuces, most of them failed and died. Cauliflowers too were a dismal failure and all my outdoor tomatoes, despite starting off well, got blight and I am in the process of pulling them all up and burning them (this seems to have happened to other tomato growers in Colne too). I also lost several plantings of various brasiccas to pigeons and in the end resorted to buying some netting to cover them up and keep the pigeons off. I also thought it would keep the butterflies off too, but how wrong I was. They still managed to get in, goodness knows how, and soon after I was inundated with caterpillars munching their way through all my brussels plants. I have always tried to avoid pesticides and was pleased that I had not been forced to use any chemicals apart from glyphosate weed killer (not around the crops I hasten to add), but at this point I realised I would have to change tactics, and a quick spraying later reduced the caterpillar population to nil.

For the future, I am going to have to develop a strategy for dealing with the clay. Maybe in the worst areas I could house my hens when I get them. Following Mick’s excellent article on keeping pigs I am tempted to get a couple but Mary-Clare thinks I might be taking on too much too soon and will the pigs turn the clay in to a swamp? Perhaps she is right, we’ll see.

So there it is, one year on and almost the end of season one. It seems appropriate that this morning my 2015 catalogue for King’s seeds dropped through the letterbox and I can start planning next year. All-in-all, I feel happy with our first year. An amazing learning curve on a new plot, but some good achievements, despite a lot of the crops having to be left to their own devices while I got on with the house renovations. Priorities for next year will be to improve the soil and sort the irrigation so I am going to attempt to dig a borehole soon. I’ll let you know how that goes. Before anything else though I’m going to rest, because I’m tired! I don’t think I we’ve ever worked so hard in one year in our lives (I’ve spared you the horror stories of the house renovations) and need a break. It’s been challenging but rewarding. Still we were getting bored and needed a project, and boy did we get one!

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Do you have a story to tell of your experiences on the land? If so, why not get writing and share it with the group? Email me at

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CSSG Future Events– Some Dates For Your Diary

Thursday 16th October - There will be an open committee meeting on Thursday October 16th at 7.30 pm in the community room at Bakery Close, Wilburton. Angela will send an agenda next week. If you have any item that you would like to be included, then please let either Mick or myself know. We have several events planned for later this year and next, but need people will to help and organise for this to happen.

Sunday 19th October – Jonathan Revett will be leading a fungi foray at Brandon Country Park on Sunday October 19th, starting at 10.30am. This will last approximately 2 hours as we go into the surrounding forest and woodland. £5 per adult, £2.50 children, no charge for under 5s. Dogs are welcome.

Depending on interest, there is a possibility of having Ramsey community bus and picking up at various places along the way from Ramsey to Brandon. Mick has even offered to stop at a hostelry on the way home if the demand is there!

Please let either Mick Matthews or Angela Fordham know if you would be interested in this asap. Price for the bus would be £10 per head.

Their contact details are 07733 133285

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The Co-operative Movement –

A Brief Story of an Idea that Revolutionised Food Retailing

The Co-op movement started its life as the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society and was formed by 28 workers - ten of them were flannel weavers whilst others were cloggers, shoemakers, joiners or cabinet makers. There had been earlier co-operatives, many of which had run into difficulties and ceased trading. The Pioneers learned from those experiences and from the writing of people like Robert Owen, George Jacob Holyoake and William King and built a workable model of co-operation that could be replicated by other groups of people.

The 1840s was known as the “Hungry Forties” with high levels of unemployment and those who were in work had seen their wages reduced by large amounts. Retailers at the time often did not give fair weights of goods bought and food adulteration, for example adding chalk to flour was common. The Pioneers’ society promised to sell good quality produce at full weight and fair prices. The Pioneers set out their aims in “Rule First” of the Society’s 1844 Rule Book. The aims started with the opening of a shop, then extended through housing, manufacturing and farming and ending with “to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education and government” along co-operative lines.


News of the activities of the Pioneers soon spread and co-operative societies were set up using the “Rochdale Method” across the UK. The first history of the Pioneers was written in 1858 by George Jacob Holyoake and was entitled “Self-Help by the People”. It was written to encourage co-operatives to be formed. The book was translated and published in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Spain. By 1862, the Pioneers had bought a visitors book to record their UK and international visitors who came to learn more.

One of the key factors which ensured success where others had failed may have been down to the guiding principles applied at the start of the venture. Known as the Rochdale Principles, the seven rules still have a radical ring to them, 166 years after they were first written down. They included guidance on equality, political neutrality and trading.

The idea of a co-operative is that the business is owned by its customers and everyone works together for a common goal, that of good service over the pursuit of profit.

The Rochdale Society was no different. The small number of textile mill workers who formed it did so with the hope of serving the community around them with goods they couldn't usually afford. The Industrial Revolution was expanding technology at a mind-boggling rate and, as a result, more and more skilled workers were falling into poverty, their jobs taken by machines. In 1844, they decided to make a stand against the capitalist ideologies of the Industrial Revolution and set about writing down a list of rules by which they would run their new society. The principles were based on both the Society's members' ideals and the experiences of similar organisations, which had failed to achieve their co-operative aim.

They were simple ideas, but they had a radical ring to them, in keeping with the general atmosphere of radicalism that was bounding round England's North West at the time.

The Rochdale Principles

The first two principles were those of Open Membership and Democratic Control, meaning that the co-operative was open to everyone and everyone had a vote in it. Given that it would be another 74 years until women achieved suffrage and that, at the time, only around 1 in 7 men in the UK had the right to vote, such equality was practically unheard of.

These two principles are backed up with a later list entry, Political and Religious Neutrality, which ensured that the society and the co-operative was open to all the local workers.

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The next two principles, Dividend On Purchase and Limited Interest On Capital, deal with the monies earned by the co-operative. They ensured that any money taken by the co-operative was mostly either ploughed back into the society or held in reserve to help at a later date, instead of the norm of the time, which was to divide profits amongst shareholders. Another later list entry, Cash Trading, added to this with the underlining of nothing being allowed to be sold 'on tic'. This ensured that debts and bills couldn't be run up against the limited funds of the co-operative and, as such, put it at risk financially.

The final principle was possibly the most important for the wider world, as it promised a commitment to the communities the co-operative served in the form of Promotion Of Education.

Opening the first shop

With these rules decided upon, the Rochdale Pioneers set about creating their co-operative store in an old warehouse on Toad Lane. It opened on four days before Christmas Day in 1844 with the most meagre of offerings.

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In stock were a few pounds of butter and sugar, six sacks of flour, one of oatmeal and 24 candles. Within a few months, they were able to add the luxuries of tea and tobacco to their shelves and, despite the small amount of goods, the shop was a success.

By 1854, the British co-operative movement had taken up the Rochdale Principles and over 1000 such stores were open. Another decade on, the North of England Co-operative Society, the group that would become the modern Co-op, was born out of the local successes. The Rochdale Principles had changed the world forever, bringing a social conscience to business which echoes loud into the modern world, as all over the globe, co-operatives use the rules set down by those original Pioneers as a basis for their own trading.

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Small Scale Pig Keeping by Mick Matthews

If you have ever fancied keeping a pig or two to provide yourself with some nice tasty pork this piece will either guide you or dissuade you so read on.


First you will need to register with Defra as you will need a county parish holding number (CPH) To apply for a CPH you need to contact The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) customer registration helpline on 0845 603 7777. They will help you through the process and will offer all sorts of advice in the way of Defra publications. Take whatever is offered. They guide you with all the form filling legislation and regulations and there are loads to get your head round and if in any doubt, ask. (This service is paid for from our taxes along with local trading standards). They will give guidance and advice but are also responsible with the policing of all the rules that come with wanting to keep livestock. We are all subject to the rules even if you want to keep pet pigs. (Why you should want to keep a pig as a pet is beyond me but I’m told some people do even keeping micro ones it’s a strange world).

Ok, you are registered what do you do next? Decide where you want to keep your pigs. I say pigs as you should always keep more than one. They are social creatures and it seems cruel to have one on its lonesome. The soil association recommend having no more than 18 pigs to a hectare at a finished weight to 85 kilos. Now that is quite a large chunk of meat (close to 13 ½ stone) and you will hopefully have two of them so aiming for a lower finished weight is a good idea. Now the soil association recommendations are all well and good and I would love to conform with the ideal, but even with our two acres it is not practical to allow that much space and after perusing the web I have picked up a nugget of info from the RSPCA that recommends an area of 6 x 6 metres per pet pig now. This is a recommendation for a single pet pig and we have already decided that it is better welfare to keep pigs in company of at least one other pig. I feel it is acceptable to keep two pigs in an area of 26ft x 19ft. This is better than having a square area as for some reason, pigs in small spaces like oblongs in preference to squares (I think it is something to do with their sporty side. Put two pigs in a rectangle and they soon race down the straight and round the turns. Try throwing them a foot ball!). So, we have the room what else are we going to need well primary fencing, housing, water and feeding.


Pigs are extremely strong creatures so your fencing needs to be robust. We won’t be looking at electric fences for this scale of pig-keeping as the pigs have not got the room to get away from the shock without running into the opposite fence. You will be fencing a minimum distance of 92ft less the gap for a gateway. It is worth buying a good gate with either weld mesh or a sheet metal panel at the bottom. The fence needs to be a heavy duty type and around 80-100 cm (2ft6 ins to 3ft 3ins) high. I’m inclined to go for the higher one. Both should have 8 horizontal wires these will be closer at the bottom and the closer spacing should be at the bottom of your finished fence I have seen it upside down with 3 little piglets on the outside. You will also need five decent sized posts at least 4inches thick and 6ft long. These will be your corner post plus a gate post. You will need struts to carry the stock mesh between these corner posts. I suggest the use of square post to make construction easier and I envisage the set up being temporary though it can be a permanent fixture. The struts can be thinner than the corner post but the saving on cost will be negligible. So to put the fence together normally I use a rammer to put in fence posts, but for this project I recommend using a post hole-borer. Make your first hole for the corner post and plant the post so you have 3ft 3ins above the ground. (I’m assuming we have run a line to keep things straight and true). Now we have a fence with horizontal wires closer together at the bottom, but as your pigs get bigger they will find that they can push under the stock fence. To prevent this from happening we are going to fix second hand scaffold boards along the base of the fence. This is where the square posts make life easier and if you have used four-inch posts the job will be easier and the finish more secure. Four-inch coach screws are excellent to fix these boards and can be quickly removed when the pigs have gone, then stored away with everything else until you’re ready for the next lot. If it becomes necessary to join two boards between posts this can easily be done by fixing a short length of board behind the butted ends with coach screws. So now you have your fence post in and a board fixed round the bottom. The next job is to back fill around the post and pack the soil firmly round each post.

We now need to consider the gate. Modern metal gates are a boon to hang and adjust. The smallest size you can get is around 3ft wide. Get one with a sprung bolt and eye bolts. For hanging, these can easily be adjusted with a spanner. You need two bolt-on hook plates which go on the hanging post. Offer the gate to the slam post and mark where the spring bolt touches the post centre in line with where the hang post will be. Drill a hole to receive the bolt, then hold the gate with the bolt in this hole and offer up the hanging post to the other end of the gate. Bore out the hole for the hanging post. Fix the hook plates one up and one upside down ideally, with the gate inside the bottom board. This will stop the pigs from pushing the gate against you when you open it.

All that is left to do now is securing the stock fence to the post. Because this is a relatively small piece of fencing it should not be necessary to strain the fence too much. The base boards will give a certain amount of rigidness to your fence. It might be prudent to remove the base boards to allow their reaffixing over the wire. This will give a tidier finish and a bit of extra security. Remember to stagger your staples down the post as this will avoid the chance of the post splitting along the grain and don’t forget to staple the mesh to your base boards. For a little more money you could board along the top of the fence and staple the stock fence along this as well. This would prevent your pigs pulling the fence down but hopefully they will be gone to sausage or chop heaven before they get around to trying that sort of thing.


As your pigs have access to an outdoor space they will be quite happy in a small shelter which gives protection from the rain wind and sun. Consider a wooden floor. This will give your pigs more comfort as the bedding can be kept dry when conditions are wet. The floor can be a sheet of shuttering ply which will give the shelter a floor space of 8 x 4 ft., which is enough for two pigs. You will notice them using less than half of this when they’re resting. The height need not be more than four foot with a slight run to shed rain away from the entrance. For materials, I have in the past made temporary pig huts from straw bales, corrugated sheet ply wood and boards, and converted brick sheds. The pigs have been happy in all of these as long as the bedding was dry and deep and you position things so the wind and rain can’t get in. I have kept five weaners to their slaughter weight in a house made from straw bales placed round a sheet of ply wood and they were all snug as bugs or pigs in blankets. The only time the space might be an issue is if you require the attendance of a vet but it is very rare indeed to need a vet for pigs that are being fattened for the freezer. You should only be keeping them for four months at the most as they are probably going to be 8 weeks old when you get them. If you want to preserve a timber built shelter white paint is a good option as it reflects the suns rays keeping things cooler in summer.


This is one of the most important ingredients in your pig keeping journey and clean fresh water must be available at all times. You will spend a lot of time and effort providing this unless you can get a mains fed water supply. There are purpose-made pig drinkers on the market or you can make your own. A builders bath fitted with a ball cock attached to the garden hose can be set up easily and the constantly filled bath will be too heavy for the pigs to turn over. This will need regular cleaning as your pigs will put muddy snouts in their water. The other water requirement will be a wallow especially in the summer heat. You can achieve this by pouring the old water from the drinking vessel on the ground away from the house’ feeding and dunging area. The pigs will do the rest.


For this section I’m assuming you have opted for a traditional breed of pig and advise using a suitable type of feed either from Allen and Pages or Heygates. There are organic feeds available from the likes of Marriages or Peak feeds. These brands to the best of my knowledge do not include growth promoters or antibiotics as routine ingredients. If these are not available, then opt for sow feed in pellets or rolls. Additions to the feed can be weeds from the garden grass mowings provided they are free from weed killer or lawn feed, spare vegetables (those over grown courgettes have found a home ) veg scraps such as peelings, but legally these must not have been inside the kitchen as waste from kitchens is prohibited under the precautions relating to foot and mouth. This also includes left over bread and cakes but use commonsense. You will need to give a declaration about feed and veterinary treatments given when taking the pigs for slaughter. How much to feed? Well, healthy pigs are always hungry and will eat to excess if you let them a good rule of thumb is to let them eat as much as they can in twenty minutes and adjust the amount of feed accordingly. They should be looking for a bit more when they are finished. The following table is a rough guide and should be split between two feeds.

Approximate daily feed per pig



It is beneficial to mix one or both of these feeds in water to make porridge. Pigs seem to enjoy this and you can add any leftover milk to the mix if you keep a goat or cow, plus whey from any cheese making. This will obviously need to be fed in a trough.

Maybe one feed can be porridge and the morning feed can be scattered over the floor area for the pigs to practice their natural rooting habits. If your pigs are looking fat cut down on the proprietary feed and substitute moor veg waste etc.

You can always grow veg like potatoes as feed for your pigs if you have enough space. The choice is yours but keep a check on the pigs weight. I have a weigh band if anyone wants to borrow it. This gives live weight and dead weight, that is, an estimate of how much pork the carcase will give as pork. So that’s your fencing, housing, water and feed sorted. All you need now is to keep their bedding dry and deep straw is best for this and you are on your way to some of the best pork you will have tasted.

Next issue will deal with transport and moving plus arranging slaughter of your pigs.

For Sale

Gloucester Old Spot Weaners

Ready Now - £40 each

Contact Yvonne or Alan

On 01353 862 495 o


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How Hens Can Help Your Plot Thrive

Chickens can provide eggs, meat, fertilizer, pest control and more when incorporated into the garden. Not only will your garden benefit, but the chickens will, as well. With a little extra time and energy in setting up your garden, you’ll be reaping rewards from both coop and soil.

First of all, chickens offer a free and ready supply of organic fertilizer. Their excrement is particularly high in nitrogen, a nutrient plants need in ready supply. If you need to purchase fertilizer regularly for your garden, depending on garden size and needs, one chicken may save you around £20 in fertiliser.


There is one brief caution when it comes to using chicken manure. Pathogens can find their way into the manure and cause food poisoning, especially in leafy greens and root crops. Though the chances of a pathogen presence are small, it’s best to spread chicken manure on your garden in late autumn and let it over-winter (at least three months). Another option is to allow the chicken manure to compost thoroughly before applying to the garden. Sunlight, oxygen, freezing temperatures and PH extremes kill pathogens.

There are several ways to capture chicken manure. Since half of a chicken’s manure is dropped during the night and early morning, you’ll want to focus on how to make use of that. Using a deep litter system in your coop is a great idea as you will be able to compost everything together. Three to four inches of grass clippings, leaves, straw or wood shavings spread out over the coop floor are perfect. Make sure underneath the roosts is adequately covered as this area will see the greatest deposits. Another way to capture the night and early morning droppings is to use a manure hammock. This sling goes under the roosts and is easily removable so you can cart manure out often. It helps keep the smell from building up in the coop as well.

Using small portable chicken tractors in your garden can also be advantageous. You can put the chickens where you need them in particular portions of your garden, either in the autumn or when you are growing cover crops. If your garden is already fenced in (i.e. predator proof), then you can probably get away with a few sturdy cages made from just welded wire and clips. You can make these to your size needs rather easily. If your garden is not already predator proof, you’ll want to invest a little more in your cages. Adding a frame to your wire cages can help make the cages studier. You can also set up wire tunnels and gates and connect them to portable pens to direct your chickens to the areas that need working. If your chicken coop is nearby, you can have the tunnels connect to it as well. Or, for a cheap option, convert some plastic tubs or even a dog house into a mini chicken coop.


Or you can free range your backyard chickens in your garden during the off-season. This may not allow you to target manure placement, but your garden will still reap the benefits, and will cut down on costs and maintenance of wire cages and tunnels.

While free organic fertilizer is one of the best reasons to have chickens in your garden, there are some less well-known benefits these farm fowl can deliver as well. Among these are insect control, tillage and even basic composting. Chickens can serve as a preliminary pest control squad first thing in the season. Before you plant any tender starter crops, let your chickens have free run of your garden. They will clean up any slug populations (slug eggs and all) so you won’t have to deal with the slimy creatures for several months. Chickens and other fowl also are great in the orchard for cleaning up unwanted insects as well as rotting fruit. Guinea Fowl especially, in addition to chickens, can also serve as a tick patrol force. With Lyme disease so prevalent today, having a natural way to stay on top of the little six-legged blood-suckers is a must. Additionally, if you let chickens run with livestock, they can help curb parasite infestations that might affect your other animals.

As chickens search for delicious bugs, greens and seeds, they cut down weeds and till up the soil. Their busy scratching will gently work the soil without severely disrupting the soil layers, like a power tiller will.


(Chickens also don’t get hung up in long grasses like a power tiller might.) Chickens are especially priceless when working thick cover crops, but they can also help clear garden patches of weeds fairly quickly depending on how many chickens you have. Chickens get “free feed” and offer fertilizer in return, and they’ll naturally compost and till your soil as well. Put them to work.

You’ll soon learn: Your flock can do more than just supply eggs and meat.

The Wonders of Garlic

It’s funny how tastes change as one advances in years. Greens were always my least favourite food as a child and maybe the overcooked boiled cabbage we had to endure in school dinners was to blame. But I love them all now, sprouts, cabbage, broccoli – can’t get enough of them. But one thing I was always unable to tolerate was garlic. Don’t ask me why, I always hated it. Then something happened I smelt a meal being cooked and thought “that smells good, wonder what’s in it” and yes you guessed, lots of garlic, and so began my tolerance and soon to follow, love of the plant.


Now I grow it in abundance and thankfully, its very easy to grow and here are a few hints and tips to give you a really great crop.

Firstly its worth understanding about the different types of garlic. There are two basic types generally referred as hardneck and softneck.

Softnecks are adapted to a wider range of climates, they keep longer in storage (which is why supermarket garlics are almost always of this type), they tend to mature faster, and they're generally more productive than hardnecks. The stems of softnecks are easier to braid, but the cloves are comparatively hard to peel.

Hardnecks demand a little more attention than softnecks to produce good-quality large bulbs. But they are more colourful and offer more variety of flavour. They also produce a flower stalk or scape, prized for its delicate flavor when harvested in spring while it is still tender. Removing the scape also encourages more vigorous bulb production. (Some softnecks can occasionally develop flower stalks.)

There are many different types within each category so its often worth experimenting with two or three different varieties to see which ones grow best in your soil and which suit your taste.

How to Plant Garlic

Garlic prefers a position in full sun with a well drained, light soil. Garlic bulbs will not tolerate water logging so dig in plenty of organic matter such as compost, well rotted manure or recycled green waste before planting. This will also provide nutrients for your garlic.

Carefully split the bulb into individual cloves and plant each clove 2.5cm (1 inch) below the surface of the soil with the pointed end facing up (so the bulb sits just below the soil surface). Plant each clove 10cm (4 inches) apart and in rows 30cm (12 inches) apart. You may find birds are tempted to pull your garlic out of the ground when it is freshly planted so it is a good idea to cover the area with netting after planting.

If you are short of space, you can also grow garlic in pots. The pot will need to be at least 20cm (8 inches) in diameter with a similar depth, to allow for good root growth. Simply fill your chosen container with multi-purpose compost and incorporate some fertiliser.

Plant each clove at a depth of 2.5cm (1 inch) and space them 10cm (4 inches) apart, allowing space for the bulbs to swell (don't plant too close to the container edge). Make sure the compost remains moist, especially during dry spells.

You should always buy your bulbs from a reputable supplier. Don’t chance planting ones from the supermarket as they may not thrive or may be diseased

When To Grow

Garlic grows best if it has had a cold spell at some time during its growing life, so getting them in before winter is best. I tend to plant in late October and once in you can leave them alone until you need to do some weeding in spring. Choose a well drained site and dig in some well rotted manure or compost before planting. If you miss the autumn planting don’t worry. Certain types will tolerate a spring planting although the crop may not grow as well and harvested bulbs will be smaller. As well as my autumn planting, I decided to experiment with some in spring and I planted some Provence Wight this year in March and they were quite respectable in size and had an excellent flavour, although Solent Wight planted at the same time were rather small, but perfectly edible.

Looking After the Plants

Garlic is not very demanding! However it is vulnerable to being smothered by weeds so make sure you weed regularly. Birds may be tempted to pull your garlic out of the ground when it is young so it's a good idea to have some protective netting to hand in the early stages. You only need to water your garlic during long dry spells. If you notice flowers forming you can remove them or leave them intact, either way this should not affect the swelling of the bulb

Harvesting your Garlic

Autumn-planted garlic will be ready to harvest in June and July and spring-planted garlic will be ready slightly later. Simply wait until the leaves have started to wither and turn yellow, and then loosen the bulbs from the soil with a trowel. Be careful not to cut the garlic bulbs with your trowel as this will reduce their storage potential. Also be careful not to leave the bulbs in the ground too long after the leaves have withered as the bulbs are likely to re-sprout and may rot when stored. If you try harvesting too early the cloves will not have formed and will be one sold bulb. Lay the garlic bulbs out somewhere warm and dry before storing them.

They are best hung on strings or in an old stocking, so long as the air can circulate round them. Any dry soil left on the bulbs can be gently brushed off. Bulbs should then store for up to 3 months in good condition but I have often kept them for much longer by keeping them cool and dry.

Health Benefits

Well, there are reputed to be many which if they are all correct will mean garlic certainly is a superfood. So-called benefits include increased resistance to colds, reducing cholesterol, protection from cancer, regulates blood sugar to reduce the risk of diabetes to name a few. However, all of these claims seem to be unproved or disputed so its up to you! One thing to bear in mind though is that garlic is high in Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Manganese, Selenium and allicin, but you would probably have to eat about 2 ounces of the stuff per day to get anywhere near your recommended daily allowance. Also, the allicin (which is the chemical giving the most health benefits) is formed when the garlic is crushed. If you just slice the garlic, the allicin may not be effectively produced. All-in-all though its going to be of a benefit whatever quantities you eat, so get growing and enjoy!

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