Tag Archives: Retired Greyhounds

Snow and My Livestock

Well the weather has put a stop to tree planting for now, so there is little new to write about. Like me, the chickens, dogs, and ducks are all getting stir crazy. Whilst the chickens and ducks are able to get out, the chickens are all staying under their hutches, to avoid wading through the snow. I made all of the hutches high enough for the birds to shelter under during bad weather. The only downside is that the birds are all concentrated in a small space, which isn’t ideal for their health. I keep clearing away small areas of snow, to give them access to some grass to eat, but as soon as it snows again, they go back under the hutches.

The ducks are happier waddling over the snow, but as they cannot find any food, they seem to be spending most of the day sat around, waiting for their afternoon meal.

The greyhounds are more of a problem. The snow gets between their toes, and rubs the skin away. The cold also cracks their pads, which allows grit to get caught in the cracks. So all of the dogs are getting hyperactive, if there’s such a thing as a hyperactive greyhound. I’m sat on the sofa right now, typing with my right elbow up in the air, to avoid disturbing a sleeping dog, who has her head in my lap.

The only other livestock that needs attention are the bees. I go up to the hives each morning and unblock the entrances, so that the hive can breathe. Last year when we had a long period of snow, my hive of Italian bees had remained active, fooled into rearing brood by mild weather . This led to lots of dead bees, trying to leave the hive to empty, and dying outside. So far this year, that hasn’t occurred.

I’ll post again when I get some more trees planted.


Take Care



The Sustainable Smallholding End of Year Roundup

2009 was another busy year at the Sustainable Smallholding, with changes to the management of my bees, an increase in the number of chickens, and hives, the addition of ducks, the creation of swales, and lots of experimental growing. This included growing tobacco, manuka, eucalyptus, acacia, small scale wheat growing etc. So I thought that I’d do a short summary, and a look forward to my plans for next year.

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Sustainable Transport

Well, I’ve finally got rid of my van. I figured that whilst there were many good reasons to keep it, the reasons for letting it go were more compelling.

Most of my traveling is fairly local, and we have a decent bus service, roughly one an hour. So many of my journeys could be done using public transport. I have a bicycle, but it’s pretty hilly here, and I’m not as fit as I used to be. Nevertheless, I gave my van away to the Doris Banham Charity, who rescue dogs. They have a shop in Horncastle, and I was moved by the work that they do.

Their website is here


The home page shows my van, which has been sign written.

The site shows a number of dogs looking for homes, and as our greyhounds pass on, I’m tempted to rehome a Staffie. I’m not sure that my wife will approve, but that’s something to look at later.

I’m Fifty later this year, so my mother, when she discovered that I was giving my van away, offered to buy me an electric bicycle for my birthday. I accepted, and here it is.

bElectric BicycleThe battery is where the water bottle would be. So far I’ve been reasonably pleased with it. The motor needs some pedaling assistance whilst climbing the steepest hills, but it’s easier than pedal power alone. I’ve been using it quite regularly. It’s very cheap to operate. I charge it at night, when we get a cheaper tariff, and we use 100% renewable electricity, from Good Energy. My rough calculation reckons that I’m saving £50 per month, without taking into account what I would have spent on diesel. As I get a bit fitter, I may start to use my normal bike more frequently. My wife has just bought a normal bicycle, so I’m probably going to have to keep her company on some riding from now on.

Where will I find the time?

All of the best


Ryeland Rams To leave The Smallholding

Well they’re finally going. The last of the flock, my two Ryeland rams are leaving the Smallholding.They are being collected tomorrow lunchtime. This marks the end of a three year foray into keeping sheep, and marks the beginning of a new phase in the building of a sustainable future.

When I stopped racing Greyhounds, I had about three acres of grass that were not being utilised. We had re-homed most of the dogs, keeping seven. I had been growing vegetables and fruit for some time, and was already scything the fields, which took some effort. We needed to do something to utilise the available space on the smallholding, and I thought that we could keep sheep. They would eat some of the grass, I could make hay, and we would have plenty of meat for the freezer. I checked out the different breeds, and thought that the Ryeland would make the ideal sheep for a smallholder. I still feel the same way three years later. This link will take you to a the Ryeland Flock Book Society website’s page that describes the breed.


We bought six ewe lambs, and reared them, then a ram, and we lambed for the first time a year ago. It could have gone a little more smoothly, but it worked. We sold the ewe lambs, and one of the young tups, for breeding, swapped one ram lamb for half a pig, and put one ram lamb, and a barren ewe into the freezer, in November. In the interim, I had stopped eating meat. That decision meant that I was doing quite a bit of work, for no personal reward. I had also come to realise that whilst I could be self sufficient in food whether I kept sheep or not, I couldn’t be self sufficient in fuel if I kept sheep. They eat the trees. So the ewes were sold, and I was left with my ram, and his companion (son). Nobody wanted to buy him, and for a while, nobody wanted to take them for free. Luckily that has now changed, and they go tomorrow, to a friend.

Was the decision to keep sheep a good one? Well, judged financially definitely not, but not everything should be  judged by it’s monetary return. Keeping sheep certainly helped to steer me towards vegetarianism. I ate very little meat anyway, and I found it increasingly difficult to justify the taking of a life, to feed myself. Each sheep had their own personality, came for a scratch, and having worked so hard to keep some of the lambs alive, it didn’t seem to make sense to then kill them. I also read a couple of books from the Krishna Conciousness Movement, and their view that every creature has a soul struck a chord within me. How could I hope that my dogs would have an afterlife, and not think that sheep might also have a soul?

I have also learnt a lot about keeping sheep. Whilst I don’t expect to do it again, if there is ever a need to show people how it’s done, I can help. I guess that the best reason for giving it a go would be to avoid the “What if?” question later. I try to do everything that I fancy having a go at, just so that I have few regrets. I don’t regret keeping sheep, and I will not regret stopping. A friend of mine, and fellow smallholder,  said that most smallholders keep on taking new things on until it all gets too much, and then cut back to what they like the most. Without trying them all, we have no way of knowing which of them we’ll enjoy.

So I’ll miss the sheep, and my ram, and will be a little sad to see the last two go, but it was the right decision to get them, and the right one to let them go. Now I can look forward to planting trees. Too late for this Winter, but it gives me time to refine the plan, and to use permaculture principles in the new design.

Love and Best Wishes to you all


Sowing and Experiments

Hi All

Today was designated as a sowing day, specifically leaf plants, but by lunchtime nothing seemed to be getting done.

It’s been taking me quite some time to get my first batch of routine chores done, but today things seemed to be going really slowly. Every morning I have to walk and feed the dogs (four retired greyhounds), let three lots chickens out and feed them, check the sheep have enough water, and then water the plants. The plant watering is what’s taking the time. I grow most of my vegetables in modules, so there’s quite a lot that need watering right now, but the bees are making it hard. By the time that I’m ready to water, they are all over the pots, and I have to keep checking to make sure that I don’t drown any of them.

bees drinking3

bees drinking3

Here are a few. If you look carefully you can see that they are going into the hole at the base of the pot, and drinking from the inside. Most of them are using the salad pots, that are in and outside of the old kennel block. Here’s a picture just so that I can include a picture of two of the dogs.

dogs and salad

dogs and salad

By the time that I was ready to start sowing seeds, it was late morning. I then needed to make space in a propagator, so I had to move plants out of the greenhouse into a sheltered spot, followed by moving stuff from a propagator to the greenhouse, and then I should have been ready to start.

The next job was sieving compost to remove lumps, mixing in sand, and vermicompost, and assembling the rootrainers. By the time that I stopped for lunch, I had only sown five trays. Luckily, the afternoon went more quickly, and I continued after the afternoon round of routine chores, and finished all of the seeds that I had intended to sew. Rather than waste time tomorrow, I’ve done all of the sieving and mixing this evening.

As well as the more normal stuff, I have put in some Tobacco, Bush Clover, White Clover, and Wild Garlic today. The tobacco should probably have been sown a while ago, but it only arrived yesterday. I want to see if it can be grown outside, or if it will need a polytunnel. it’s a good bee plant, and if it grows well, will give me (a non smoker), something to trade with. A little bit of barter never hurt anybody. The seed was really fine. I expected something much larger to match the size of the finished plant.

Tomorrow I’m going to try Persimmons, Wintergreen, and Juneberry, as well as some more decorative (bee plant) seeds. I do like to try growing new things. One of the experiments that I’m conducting is Small-scale Wheat growing, using the Bon Fils method. The following link gives a brief explanation of the method


Since first publishing this post I’ve discovered somebody else who is trying a clover undercrop. The following link will take you to his site.


The experiment came about as a result of a conversation with a friend who grows ancient varieties of wheat for thatching straw. I asked him how much land would be needed for somebody to grow their own wheat, and he thought that 1 sq metre of wheat would yield enough for a loaf of bread. So a patch 10 metres x 10 metres, would provide enough for two loaves a week. The Bon Fils angle was simply a desire to try out something that I had read in ‘The Earth Care Manual’ by Patrick Whitefield. I just wanted to be sure that if I needed to, I could grow my own wheat, and bake my own bread. As it turns out I was late getting my wheat in, and too late to sow clover, but I’m trying it anyway. This year I will do the same again, but I’ve got some Emmer Wheat to try, and I’m also going to try Spelt. The Spelt is supposed to be hard to grind, and difficult for birds to eat, but I’m going to let the seed do the work for me, and just sprout it.

Here is one of the small test beds.



I’ve interplanted the wheat with some broad beans, and I have some lentils to put in also. I wouldn’t grow wheat in a bed normally, but as it’s just a trial, I didn’t want to go to the trouble of clearing a new patch of ground. The lentils also fix nitrogen, and I’m told that our climate is better for growing it than the countries from whom we import it. It doesn’t make sense, does it? I’m not sure of the best way to harvest the lentils, so if any of you have experience with growing them, I’d appreciate your help. The lentils were just normal packets from a local supermarket, soaked for twelve hours, then kept moist until roots were visible. They were then put into rootrainers, to grow on. Cheap and easy.