Tuesday 14 August 2012

Smallholding First Brew And The Cattle Sample Their First Bale Of Silage.

 We sampled our first smallholding brewed bitter last night.  That's my smallholding 'bible' in the background: John Seymour's The New Complete book of Self Sufficiency, The classic guide for realists and dreamers.  The original  book: Self Sufficiency, inspired me many moons ago to get an allotment and set off on my self supporting journey.  The bitter tasted like bitter ("no?") and  it was a bit flat but there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.  John Seymour says in the book that you should leave the bottles for about ten days to fizz up.  I waited for 3 days.  Hmm....

 That's Ruby and Sooty my two Limousin cross heifers and 2 of the bullocks looking at the camera taken this Tuesday morn.  The grass is not growing and they seem to be poaching (no they don't eat eggs) and cutting everywhere up.  So one of my kind neighbours helped me bring them up to the yard and they followed a bucket of beef nuts.  The silage is like haylage and smells like cider.  Don't know if they are in for the winter but at they have got grass (71 and a bit bales) to scoff and leave me lots of country pancakes which will eventually feed my vegetable plot.
We managed to get 2 more brews on the go yesterday.  There's forty pints of Scottish Heavy and forty pints of  Young's  Cider brewing in the kitchen.  So we have 120 pints in total.  Please let me know if I am brewing it wrong or even right?



  1. Pleased to hear your first bitter turned out OK, if it's drinkable now,I think it will only get better as time goes on.
    And 2 more buckets on the go, they seem to have started well, let's hope they turn out just as good. Think you must be doing something right.
    But be prepared for the occasional failure, some brews don't seem to turn out as well as expected; this happens to all of us.

    Nice-looking heifers, you going in for milk?
    How many big bales will 6 beasts and a Shetland eat in a week?

    Nice to see your bible, I read the first edition many years ago, and it inspired me as well, I would really have liked to have a try at that way of life; sadly my then wife wouldn't have a go, she was too fond of shopping and new things; and I couldn't do it on my own.
    My present wife would have loved to experience the country life, and we were hoping to buy a place in Bulgaria; sadly again she was diagnosed with spodylitis and allocated a wheelchair two and a half years ago; that stopped that ambition.

    But I've tried a lot of his recommendations, with varying degrees of success but mostly good results.

    Overcast and raining again, grass looking longer and greener by the hour.

    Raggy cat in as usual, straight to the biccies, must have been a lean nights hunting, but I did receive a prime (dead) mouse yesterday.
    Still no sign of Alan the cat? Funny enough, a girl I talk to works in Tesco, her cat went missing 3 days ago, female and pure white. Hope he turns up, Mrs says if he does, put butter on his paws, he'll never go again.

  2. Thanks Cumbrian for the advice and encouragement. I think I need to put a bit more sugar in the bottles to make it into a northern English pint 'Wiv an head on it."

    I also think I forgot what bitter tastes like. I have been drinking mainly stout and the occasional lager for the last decade or so. The taste reminded me of a Bass type of bitter. The Scottish Heavy has a foamy head already and the bubbles are going mad. Can an hydrometer be wrong? According to our calculations (probably wrong) our bitter is only 2%. I don't understand.

    We will probably fatten the two heifers and send them to the factory or the mart. They would make nice cows but they are really beef animals. Not sure how many bales they will eat. Probably about 2 a week. They are also getting a bucket of beef nuts between them all every day. Bracken the Shetland pony is still in the field. He's not cutting up the land.

    It was the first edition of Self Sufficiency that inspired me Cumbrian. The new one is full of excellent illustrations and I call it my 'smallholding bible'. Don't think John Seymour ever made any money (like most self supporting authors) but he inspired millions of us to dream of living on a smallholding or having our own allotment.

    Don't give up on the smallholding dream Cumbrian. I know what you mean though. Smallholding farming and allotment tending can be very physically demanding and it's always great to have somebody help you. Think there should be allotments specially designed for wheel chair users with raised vegetable beds and wheelchair friendly surfaces. All the the new houses here are designed with doors big enough for a wheelchair. I think people with prams and pushchairs are often forgotten about or ignored especially in shops and town centres.

    We have 91% humidity here, but it's not rained since the cattle came in. I am sure the rain clouds are just stopped at the traffic lights and will soon arrive?

    Alan is still doing his walkabout. Perhaps he was an Aborigine in another life or he's jumped on a ferry to visit the Tesco girl's cat?


  3. Doubt if the hydrometer's wrong, I never use one so I don't really know. The first ferment normally froths up just like in your pic, then gets a bit thicker for a few days, then thins out as ferment finishes, depending on temperature, about 4-7 days. Yours look just right, the water traps should be bubbling nicely now?
    Be careful with the sugar, I've seen bottles explode with too much pressure; that's the good thing about plastic with screw tops, you feel it tighten up and can let a bit out slowly. Also if you give it too much sugar, and it builds up a nice pressure, when you crack it, the sediment often all froths up and makes the whole bottle un-drinkable (except for slugs).
    Just keep experimenting, try a few bottles with varying amounts of sugar; don't forget to label them, if you're like me you'll forget which is which.
    Pub bitter gets its head from the CO2 gas which is absorbed into the ale under pressure, but not too much pressure.
    I use Cornelius kegs and fire extinguisher CO2 gas bottle with commercial-type guages and line, gives a solid head, but have to be careful with the pressure. I don't leave the gas connected all the time, just top it up as required, maybe once or twice per batch. The kegs are industrial quality and expensive to buy, but give a lovely professional-type dispense, and will last several lifetimes if not for ever. They're ex-commercial soft drink dispensers, apparently the trade switched to a different type of dispense method and a lot of these redundant kegs became avaiable to home brewers. I've got 2 of them, so always have a brew available, they live in the garage, there's a fridge/freezer there with the top fridge bit shelves taken out, the kegs fit in beautifully, and a nice height to pull the tap.

    Wonder how many people have been inspired to action by reading John Seymour? Wonder how many have made good? And how many have failed?
    I love his style of writing, the "No holds barred tell it how it is" method really gets the message home. And his contempt for pen-pushers, tax collectors and politicians.
    Wonder what he'd make of the current EEC-inspired rules and regulations?
    And as you say he probably never made vast quantities of money from his works, but I get the impression he would probably have treated it with the same comtempt as he normally reserved for tax-collectors.

    Be nice to think there could be allotments for wheelchairs, be difficult though. Got to admit the Building Regulations have made more places easily accessible in recent years, including dwellings; but lots of older buildings were designed and built without the benefit of such regulations.

    Given up on the small-holding, but try do my bit with other things like brewing, baking, preserving, etc. Used to keep new Zealand Whites for meat; set nets & lines & pots for fish & shellfish; liked to do a bit of rough shooting for the pot; keep my fire burning with driftwood.
    I learned a lot from John Seymour.

    Stopped raining and sun's trying to come out, still breezy.

  4. Thanks for that Cumbrian. I find the home brewing process fascinating. I will take your advice and keep experimenting with the sugar. Yes the water traps are bubbling up really well. Going to try some more of the first batch tonight with a bit of Theakston's to get the desired head or froth.

    I think John Seymour must have inspired millions of people like us to try the good life. I have heard that it was easier to buy or rent somewhere in the sixties and seventies. I have heard of small farms in West Cork being bought for less than thirty thousand in the seventies, but who had thirty thousand in those times? So it was probably still difficult to get your own smallholding?

    I think you certainly do your bit with your brewing, baking, preserving, hay-making, comments..., to further the smallholding cause. John Seymour is one of my heroes and he should have been in government. Imagine him being the minister for self supporting, allotments, realists and dreamers? Here's one of his quotes:

    "Nothing should be wasted on the self-sufficient holding. The dustman should never have to call."

    Dry today, storm forecast for tomorrow.

    Thanks Cumbrian.

  5. Yes, keep trying with the sugar, I don't think anybody really knows it all, it's just a matter of experimenting (if that's the right word) until you get it right as you want it.
    Keep incresing the home brew and dereasing the bought stuff until you get your brewing sorted, I can't remember the last time I bought any beer.
    Another couple of pints tonight with a King Edward on the decking, it turned out a lovely warm sunny evening. Might even get the grass cut tomorrow if it keeps fine.

    I guess £30,000 was just as impossible in the 70s as the price is today, it's all relavent to wages, etc.
    France was a good place to buy a few years ago, and had the advantage of being close enough, decent climate and civilised, but I think it's prices have gone up as well.
    I know a lot of small/medium family farms are not there any more, squeezed out by the impossibility of making a decent living from mixed farming and absorbed into bigger farms.

    I love John Seymours quote "The dustman need never call", I beleive he got it right, modelling his holding on the days of High Farming, mixed crops and livestock all interacting to make a self-supporting unit.
    William Cobbett also had the right idea, have you read his work Cottage Economy I seem to think John Seymour refers to him occasionally?

    Agree, I'd love to have seen John Seymour in government, his brand of common sense and style of cutting through the bullshit would have been a refreshing change from the politically-correct red-tape-bound head-bangers who are in charge today.
    He really influenced my thinking (or rationalised what I already beleived) about our modern consumer-driven society.

    Supposed to start bright and warm tomorrow, up to 23deg, then rain later. I'll beleive it when it happens.

  6. Thanks Cumbrian. We had a really rough night and felt the brunt of of a storm. There's flood warnings, high winds and heavy rain predicted. Glad I brought the cattle up to the farmyard. It will give the land a chance to recover. Heard of a few farmers losing their silage crop to the rain due to the contractors being unable to make pit silage. No doubt farmers will start selling their cattle and the fantastic prices will fall? Farming is like Capitalism - boom and bust. However what other system is there?

    Another one of my great heroes: GK Chesterton, suggested Distributism. It's a very good idea where the farms are collectively owned (no not Communism) just a few people or a cooperative that joint manages and owns the land. I don't know anybody (hand on heart) who truly makes much money from small farming. Especially if you sit down (don't go there) and get pen and paper and work it out. A lot of smallholders (less than 4 acres) get no single farm payment, area aid/ EEC subsidies, then there's insurance, farm maintenance, silage, feed, vet bills, machinery, payment to contractors mortgage, loans...., shall I go on? Somebody once said to me (he came from a farming background) if a farmer made 25p an hour, he or she would be doing well. I never even included the farmer's labour in my lists of costs.

    However we don't just farm for profit do we? We farm/ self support for quality, taste and sentiment. I have heard of William Cobbett but never read his books. Have you heard of David Thoreau and his time at Walden in America?

    Bad weather forecast for Ireland and England today. Hope it's wrong.


  7. Price of beef animals might come down, but I bet the price of beef cuts in the supersheds won't, it'll just be another new Roller for the directors and shareholders of Tesco and their ilk, while the farmers and customers get poorer.
    You seem to be in a good position, 6 beef animals inside and enough big bales to feed them for 36 weeks, should be about May next year; there will probably be a rise in their value, as all the ones they couldn't feed will be gone, and there'll then be a shortage?
    Boom & Bust again.

    Never heard of Disributism, but I think I can grasp the theory, to quote the bard again "10 people each with 10 acres don't need 10 tractors". It could be the way to go, but the biggest obstacle is people themselves; quite a lot of them have problems co-operating or sharing. Bit like partnerships in business, they don't often work.
    I think that producing most of what you need if you can, and bartering for what you can't is about the best system. But some money is always going to be needed, and that pushes you back into the system you're trying to get away from, or at least become less dependant on.
    Apart from quality, taste and sentiment, I think there's the general satisfaction and feel-good factor you get from producing your own things?

    Never read David Thoreau, but I've ordered A Good Life by Paul Peacock.

    Watery sun this morning, keeps warm.

  8. I agree with you the price of beef won't drop if the cattle prices come down Cumbrian. The sheep farmers have been getting some terrible prices yet lamb and mutton is still expensive in the supermarkets.

    Hopefully we will have an Indian summer and the cattle will return to their grazing, but if not we will have plenty of silage for them. I was hoping to sell to half the cost of making them. Saw small bales of hay being advertised today for five Euros and this years round bales of silage for 28 Euros.

    Distributism was very popular once over. The authors GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc championed its cause. There seems to be something similar these days with people communal living. I agree it would very difficult to take on a legal joint ownership with somebody else. Whats the saying:

    "Familiarity breeds contempt."

    Perhaps if we went back to the ancient guilds systems before the enclosure acts. Tenants could live together and share their produce. William Morris another great hero of mine said:

    "It seems to be nobody's business to try to better things - isn't mine you see, in spite of all my grumbling - but look, suppose people lived in little communities among gardens and green fields, so that you could be in the country in five minutes' walk, and had few wants, almost no furniture for instance, and no servants, and studied the (difficult) arts of enjoying life, and finding out what they really wanted: then I think that one might hope civilization had really begun."

    I think Mr Morris sums up our quality, taste, sentiment, general satisfaction, sentiment and feel good factor (I'm really chuffed I can brew ale!) with his: 'Arts of enjoying life'.

    I am really pleased that you have got yourself a copy of: A Good Life. It really is excellent and I hope you enjoy it.

  9. Just found your blog - very entertaining. I'm another that has ended up on the land having read John Seymour. We rented for ages, but have finally got a place up here in Co.Down and are just getting started. Saw your post about rushes - haven't a strimmer, so have been laying waste to ours with a sickle, which is as quick as strimming, but with the additional joy of backache.
    Looking forward to reading more, cheers, Steve

  10. Hi Steve thanks for that. The rushes are a curse. I have always attempted to not use man made chemicals but I am sorry to say we just sprayed a field with MCPA. It seems to have done the trick. Think if we ever get a summer it would be a good idea to make hay with the rushes before they go to seed. John Seymour was my hero also. I hope you write a blog Steve because I would love to read all about your adventures on the land.



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