Monday, 7 April 2014

Dog's Best Friend, Wood Chip & Shiitake, Bio-diesel, Route 66

Of our pack of dogs these two are the youngest & the oldest. Dottie the 18 month old terrier is a great character loved by all who meet her despite her really annoying habit of jumping up at people's knees. She endears herself through her enthusiasm at the prospect of a new best friend and probably because she is very small. Her real best friend is Poppy our venerable old lady, who at 11 yrs of age is still game for a day's shooting and she never fails to come on walks though very much at her own pace...a lot of time is spent holding gates open as she ambles along in the wake of the other dogs. She can no longer jump or climb gates with the others. Dottie feels the cold and so spends as much time as she can being a couch potato on a labrador. When the sun is shining she & Poppy can be found out on the yard in a sunny corner sound asleep with Dot slumped across Poppie's broad back. Even in the house in front of the Rayburn she will avail herself of this extemely comfortable doggy divan.

We had a few dry days last week...wasn't it lovely?... and the Farmer took advantage of the fine weather to tidy up the brash left from relaying a hedge. Out friend G. the shiitake mushroom grower (, hired a wood chipper and he & the Farmer spent a long day pushing branches of ash, oak & elm through a violent & powerful machine which reduced the wood to vast quantiities of small chip. This is a perfect medium for growing shiitake mushrooms once it has been formed into blocks and impregnated with the shiitake spores.

We have been running our 4x4 on bio-diesel for some years now & last week the Farmer made one of his regular trips to our local chip shop & a neighbouring pub to collect their old chip oil. It is quite disgusting & really puts one off eating chips but it does convert into a fuel that will run our vehicle very efficiently. The process required to convert vile chip oil into a usable & clean product takes several hours but the equipment that we have installed is relatively simple and so long as a careful eye is kept on it thoughout the process it works very well. We & a few friends (including G. the mushroom grower) joined together to buy the equipment and whenever anyone in the group needs to make another batch of fuel they come to the farm for the day.
The process involves drying the oil by heating & bubbling air through it, then titrate to establish how much potassium hydroxide is needed. This with methanol is mixed with the oil for about 1/2 an hour then allowed to settle. The resulting by-product glycerol, is removed. The mixture is then re-heated & the methanol recovered and what is left is bio-diesel.

Man power on the farm is depleted at present as Younger Son went of to America last week. He & his girl-friend are driving across the States on Route 66 ( for the next three weeks. They flew out to Chicago, picked up a hire-car and set off to drive the 2,000+ miles to California. It should be an amazing trip. The route passes through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico & Arizona, ending in Santa Monica, California. It was the major way west for the migrants during the Dust Bowl of the 1930's & of course gained fame through Chuck Berry's great song.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Spring Flowers, Lambing Finished, Dairy Industry

The first primroses are flowering in the hidden corners of the garden and hedge banks. They look so modest and retiring compared to the flamboyancy of the daffodils which are trumpeting their presence everywhere. After a night of strong winds & heavy rain many of the daffs are looked a bit worse for wear this morning...quite literally hung over as the rain has knocked many of them to the ground unable to lift their heads to the sunshine. Those that have have actaully bent or snapped their stems I bring into the house and they look so cheerful in a blue vase on the kitchen table.

Lambing is over now and the Farmer is happy with the result. Inevitably there were a few losses but the vast majority of births resulted in good strong lambs with mothers producing plenty of milk. They are now all out roaming in the fields enjoying the freedom & the sunshine. I came across a group of about 10 lambs all lying stretched out on a sunny bank looking for all the world as though they were on a tropical beach somewhere, all that was lacking were the sunglasses!

With the spring weather the cows are milking well although our cows are not out yet. We called on friend yesterday who with his son has just gone back into milk after a break of several years. They have invested in a new parlour and a herd of Jersey x British Friesian cows and are very optimistic about the future of dairy farming in Britain. At the moment there is huge demand for dairy product from China, India & Brazil which is keeping the dairy industry here bouyant.
I was very pleased to read this week that organic sales in the UK are on the rise at long last. It has been a hard couple of years for the organic sector but things are beginning to look up.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Livestock Market, Nikolai Demidenko, Lambing

The first guests in the gypsy wagon have been here for the weekend and its been gorgeous weather for them. We have had several days of lovely sunshine that is reasonably warm and it has cheered everyone up.

Last week we met up with the boys from the high school in Cardiff who visit the farm on a fairly regular basis in Carmarthen. The Farmer had a calf to sell & the mart day coincided with the boy's visit so as something different for them we suggested they come to the mart. They were fascinated by the whole thing...the atmosphere,the noise, the speed of the auctioneers selling patter & the calves & dairy cows being unloaded from trailers inot pens before going into the seling rings. It is unlike anything else they would have seen and gave another insight into what farming & food production involves.

On Friday evening the Farmer & I had a real treat. We went to Rhosygilwen, a country house in Pembrokeshire that hosts world class music making of all kinds in a beautiful purpose built concert hall (
We went to see the acclaimed Russian painist Nikolai Demidenko ( play a programme of Russian music including Glinka, Rachmaninov & ending with a dazzling performance of Mussorsky's 'Pictures in an Exhibition'. It was wonderful evening in the lovely Oak Hall with an audience who were so appreciative of having such a renowned musician come to west Wales. We were given the added bonus of three encores. It is a very intimate venue and the audience was probably less that 100 people but was truly special evening. There really is nothing like live music.

After that cultural interlude the routine of lambing continues going well. We are only lambing about 40 ewes this year and are now about 2/3 through them. With the sunny weather rrecently it has been great to put the ewes & their babies out in large field knowing that they will be content lying in the susnshine without risk of miserable rain

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lambing Has Begun

Our first lambs arrived this morning so spring has definitely sprung. I also found masses of frog spawn in one of the ponds & I'm sure the other ponds will be similarly occupied by mating frogs. With the improvement in the weather the daffodils are suddenly appearing everywhere, the birds are singing merrily and everyone has cheered up.
We still have mud everywhere of course & the fields are still sodden and inaccessible but there is hope of better things to come despite mutterings from old farmers of snow... 'of course in 1947 the snow didn't come until March and stayed until June' is the last Cassandra-like murmur that I heard this week.
We will see.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Local Film Festival

Saturday was St. David's Day & we had daffodils in flower which is a good sign that spring is certainly on its way. The blackbirds are singing and we are due to start lambing any moment.

We went to our local market town Newcastle Emlyn, yesterday to a new film festival ( that was launched at the weekend. Apart from the opportunity to see some short films made by local film makers, the film that I produced last year about the Teifi Valley was also being shown
(go to for details).
We saw some very good & interesting films on a varied range of subjects from goats to motherhood and home to the Dragon Festival that used to be held in Newcastle Emlyn and a series of music videos made by a talented young musician from the area, Rye Millican ( It was pleasant way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon, in the company of friends supporting our tiny little local theatre.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Family Farms Under Threat in Poland (& elsewhere)

I recieved this message from a Polish friend yesterday & I think it hightlights many of the problems that face family farms throughout the world, not just in Europe thanks to government & corporate greed.
If anyone can be in London tomorrow to support it then please do.

Dear Friends/Drodzy Przyjaciele

Here is the Press Release (in English and Polish) which accompanies our Polish Embassy protest at 2:30 on 20th February. Please circulate! Get your banners together! We hope to see as many of you as possible on the 20th this is an important event not just for Poland but for all family farms of Europe and beyond!
See you.
Poniżej znajdziecie notę prasową (po anglielsku i po polsku) w związku z planowanym protestem pod Polską Ambasadą w Londynie. Prosimy o nagłośnienie i przybycie z odpowiednimi banerami 20 lutego o godz. 14:30. Sprawa jest ważna nie tylko dla Polski lecz dla całej Europy i dalej! Do zobaczenia...
Julian and Jadwiga


Polish Family Farms Criminalised for Local Food Sales
The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside and local supporters of Polish family farms are staging a protest outside the Polish Embassy in London 47 Portland Place, London W1B 1JH at 14.30 on 20th February 2014, to highlight the excessively harsh hygiene and sanitary regulations imposed upon small Polish farmers wishing to direct-sell their traditional farmhouse foods.

Since January 2014, over 200 farmers using tractor convoys have been protesting in Northern Polish towns in order to highlight their demands for a change to laws undermining their traditional way of life. Their major demands are: to end foreign corporate buy-outs of prime Polish farmland; to enforce the ban of GM crop planting and to end the criminalisation of farmhouse food sales which they claim to be the most repressive in the European Union.

At a recent farmers blockade a table was laid out with a wide range of Illegal Foods representing virtually all Poland s most popular and renowned farm products. These included smoked hams, sour cabbage, raw milk, bread, pickles and cheeses; all foods that do not comply with the current Polish government demand for farmers to carry out processing operations in specially constructed premises that are not affordable to any but the largest farms supplying the supermarket trade.

The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside is supporting the farmers protest. Sir Julian Rose, President of ICPPC said,
There are 1.5 million family farms in Poland. They are the trustees of the Polish countryside and food chain, yet their lives are under threat. The future of these farmers can only be secured by a government that recognises and responds to their urgent calls. "It's all about destroying the competition - which in this case is the small and medium sized independent family farms that produce the best foods!" - said Jadwiga Lopata, founder of ICPPC; she also has a small farm in Malopolska near Krakow.

Contact Sir Julian Rose and Jadwiga Lopata at: email telephone 0118 9842955

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Fallen Tree, Continuing Storms

The weather gods permitted us one day off from the tempests & Friday was sunny and cheerful until late afternoon when the storms returned, but goodness didn't that little respite cheer everyone up!

The picture shows one of the casualties of the storms. This very large conifer tree came down last week. It was in field hedge and so has done no damage, but the fields are so wet that the Farmer is unable to get into the field to clear the tree away. When he does it will provide a goodly amount of timber for planking and firewood.

While parts of south west England are being battered half to death & Somerset of course having the most terrible floods, we here in west Wales are also struggling with high waters and rivers bursting their banks. Our local river the Teifi has flooded many fields and it is going to take days of dry weather before any work can be done on the land.
Farmers are desperate to get their muck out from the cattle sheds. It is accumulating rapidly and everyones capacity for storing it is being stretched to the limits. Normally at this time of year the fields are dry and firm so tractors do as little damge as possible but this year we can't, or daren't take the tractors and their heavy loads onto the land. There is going to be so much clearing up to be done when the weather does improve and the backlog of field work will be immense. The forecast is not seems that that the storms are set to continue for the next week or so. It has gone on so long that it feels almost normal to be blown about and soaked every time one ventures outside.