Video: Smallholder's Diary: May 26, 2009

ESSEX couple Steve and Jenny Mansfield moved to Ely 10 months ago to fulfill a life-long dream of owning and running a smallholding. Steve, a civil servant, and Jenny, a teaching assistant, gave up their jobs to get down and dirty with pigs, chickens and

ESSEX couple Steve and Jenny Mansfield moved to Ely 10 months ago to fulfill a life-long dream of owning and running a smallholding. Steve, a civil servant, and Jenny, a teaching assistant, gave up their jobs to get down and dirty with pigs, chickens and a selection of root vegetables.

NOW the warmer weather has arrived things are starting to move in the vegetable patch, despite the lack of rain, which always seems to pass us by at the moment. This causes its own problems insofar as we either use watering cans, which are time-consuming and laborious, albeit accurate, or we use the hose pipe off the mains, which is quicker but over a season can work out expensive. We are currently flicking between the two options.

The poly tunnel is proving a great investment at the moment, it's the first time we have had the luxury of such an item and are now reaping the harvest. We have been digging new potatoes for about a week now, and there is nothing tastier than your first freshly dug new potatoes. Fortunately, our initial concerns about wireworm attacking the potatoes have so far come to nothing.

Also in the poly tunnel, along with the two early varieties of potatoes, we have planted several different varieties of tomatoes we raised from seed. Apart from standard tomatoes, we are also experimenting with a number of cherry, beef and plum tomatoes, as well as yellow tomatoes. We have also planted several varieties of peppers, cucumbers and lettuce. The latter are proving a real plus as we are cutting two to three per week at the moment. It's a good job we have plenty of young plants to replace them.

We have a number of courgette plants, these are a first for us, which we planted in our compost heap, as we believe they are very hungry feeders and enjoy a constant supply of nutrients.

The rest of the vegetable plot is coming along very nicely at the moment, we are currently cutting spinach and we reckon will have some Turnips in the next two weeks or so. The only exception is our onion sets which have been heavily infested with wireworm. Additionally we are also experiencing problems with the birds, specifically the Song Thrush pulling the onions up. We think this is to get to the wireworms to feed to their young. No matter how many times we replant the onions the birds continue to pull them up. We have tried several ways to prevent this and have resorted to netting the plot off. However this is not 100 per cent full proof as the birds always seem to find a way in.

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The eight chicks are doing really well, they are now just over two weeks old and their feathers are clearly starting to grow. They are now scratching around the run looking for insects, and exercising their wings regularly. They are quite comical at times and can often be seen hitching a ride on mum's back.

Last week our attention was drawn to a commotion in the chicken run. On inspection, we discovered that a Jackdaw had had the misfortune of landing in the chicken run next to the enclosed run where the chicks are housed. I am sure it thought of a possible easy meal; however it had not accounted for our other hens which launched in to a direct attack. We were surprised to see not only the reaction from the other hens, but also the ferocity of their attack, bearing in mind the chicks are not theirs. However the Jackdaw made good its escape - looking a little bedraggled, and will no doubt think twice in future.

The pigs are now well settled and growing at a steady rate and are full of character. Being both boys they have now sorted out who is the boss and this one who clearly dominates the food trough at feed time. They can regularly be seen squaring up and then pushing against each other, all part of growing up and sorting the pecking order out. However, they still manage their long bouts of just laying around soaking up the sun. I am glad to report that their appetite for the various types of weeds, including the nettles and thistles, is growing and they are gradually eating their way through them.

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