Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Hedgerow Berry Preserves

Yesterday evening and early this morning I was out picking brambles, hawrthorn berries, rose-hips and sloes. All of these except the sloes, are now simmering away to make juice for hedgerow jelly. The sloes of course are destined for immersion in gin!
We seem to be having something of an Indian summer which is glorious and it means that the brambles are now ripening. Up till now they have been slow in ripening and not very sweet, but now with a few days of warm sunshine they are making up for it.
My larder shelves are well-stocked with preserves and it is very satisfying seeing the rows of jars of jams, jellies, marmalade,chutneys and bottled fruits to say nothing of the good quantities of honey we have had this year. It is astonishing how much jam etc. we get through in a year...in cakes, puddings and on toast.

The Farmer & I have spent a couple of days doing some much needed renovation work in the garden around the farmhouse.We have removed a border that had been completely swamped by that demon of the garden, ground elder, and the area will be lawned and I will plant bulbs to naturalise in the grass. We also took out a thick section of hedge that was making the garden dark and damp and have replaced it with a stone wall that will soon settle in and draw a cloak of ivy and small wall plants over itself.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Cider season,

The Farmer has been busy over the past couple of weeks making cider. We have a lot of apple tress here on the farm and we are given apples by people who have no need of them from their gardens so there is a goodly quantity to process. So far the Farmer reckons he has made abour 25 gallons of cider which is sitting in fermenting barrels in the kitchen bubbling away nicely. We also freeze the apple juice as juice which is delicious throughout the winter.
(Since writing this I have been taken to task over 'being unencumbered by research' therefore I apologise and must say that the Farmer has in fact made 35 gallons of cider!)

The farming industry has been full of comment lately regarding the appointment by Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, of a vegan Shadow Minister for the Environment, Kerry McCarthy. Her remark that meat eaters should be regarded in the same light as smokers is possibly a step too far and will certainly alienate the Labour party from many voters, rural or urban, and risks the Labour being seen as the party of cranks.
This appointment has caused a lot of discussion and but it should be remembered that it just the Shadow Cabinet and quite possibly Ms McCarthy (and Mr Corbyn) may never be in a position to implement these ideas.
That said it is a useful excercise to think seriously about what the implications of banning meat-eating could be.
Veganism & vegetarianism are personal lifestyle choices available to affluent Westerners. Meat & dairy-free diets are highly dependent on imported foodstuffs such as pulses, nuts etc. cannot be grown in this country thereby incresulting in many food-miles.(e.g. most soya (which cannot be guaranteed to be GM free!) comes from Brazil, US, Canada or China). How can this be sensible & ethical when we are all being encouraged to reduce food miles and 'eat local'? On the premise of eating local for 90% of our diet and at this latitude meat is an essential component of a healthy balanced diet. The joke would be if a population of 63 million people were to be dictated to by the 2% who are vegetarian or vegan? I am not anti-vegetarian/vegan, in fact I do a lot of meat-free cooking, and I do think we should eat less meat, but do not believe it should be removed from the diet by legislation...a scenario that is, of course, highly unlikely.
As food producers we are in the very fortunate and rare situation of being able to keep much of our diet very local and with very few food-miles...we use our own milk, meat, eggs and fruit & veg., though not exclusively.
Another question is how do we want our countryside to look? Here in west Wales the patchwork of fields and hedges is the result of livestock keeping because the crop that grows best here is grass and the only way for us to utilise grass is to turn it into meat. Take cattle & sheep away and a much-loved & productive landscape would have to be preserved by legislation or be lost.
(For more information on imported soya go to www.newenvironmentalist.co.uk)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Autumn Harvest, Bovine TB,

We are in the season of fruitfulness, the polytunnel is providing us with a steady supply of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, beetroot and courgettes (which sometimes have become marrows). I have been busy making chutneys and freezing brambles as the hedgerows fruits are now beginning to ripen, albeit slowly compared to last year's bumper harvest. There is nowhere near as much available as last year probably due to the lack of sunshine and they are lacking sweetness but mixed with apple they will make good winter puddings. Oddly enough last year was not good for sloes but this year they seem to be much more in evidence so I shall be making sloe gin before too long.

After something over a month without a telephone and really bad broadband connection we are now back online. Am engineer arrived at 8 o'clock yesterday morning and spent the whole day until 5.30pm working on the problem and we now have an internet speed way beyond anything we have ever been led to believe was possible here. After almost two years of persistent difficulties with phones and internet it is amazing to have both working so efficiently and it is all down to the terrier-like determination of the engineer to get the whole thing fixed once and for all, thank you Saul!

We have had two more cattle identified as reactors to the TB test and they went off to slaughter last week. We will have another test in two months time and so the saga goes on. We will continue to be under restrictions until we get two clear tests, so this situation will run well into the new year. The restrictions mean we cannot sell any cattle meaning we will have to keep all our bull calves which normally were sold to be reared elswhere. Hopefully by the time we have reared them to a saleable size as beef animals we will be free of the restrictions.

The swallows are still with us though I guess they wil be heading south before too long. There is a definite chill in the air now and the the leaves are beginning to show signs of golden hues. I saw two herons at one of the ponds this morning who were interupted in their frog fishing by the dogs and took off up into the air with their strange long-legged slow flight and drifted off towards the river where they would be undisturbed by lolloping labradors.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Rabbits, Bovine TB, BT phoneline

My delightful terrier Dottie, has a lovely time snuffling around in hedgerows and under fallen trees on our daily walks around the farm. She has proved herself a very adept rabbit-catcher lately. Rabbits are everywhere at the moment and though they are pretty they are also real pests particularly as they have discovered the poly-tunnel and so have midnight feasts on the lettuces, carrots and anything else they fancy. The Farmer takes on the role of Mr McGregor as often as he can but the bunnies always seem to be one step ahead. Sadly, we have now found that there is myxymytosis in the rabbit population which is awful for the rabbits but it means they are very slow in their reactions and so easy prey for the dog who dispatches them very quickly which is surely better than the the slow lingering death they would otherwise have to endure. This is one of the grim realities of country life and everyone who has their vegetable plots decimated by rabbits will understand the need to control them.

Today the Farmer & the Sons have all the cattle in for TB testing. Having had one reactor to the last routine TB test and have therefore been under restrictions as to selling cattle, we hope that this test will prove clear. We have always maintained a TB-free status until this summer when we had one in-calf heifer show a positive reaction to the test. It was real blow but we have been very lucky in being TB free for so long when it is rife. The reactor heifer was taken away for slaughter and we will be compensated for her but it is not a good situation. The irony of it all that we do not have badgers on the farm, but as we all know rabbits, bats, rats, otter, cats etc. can all be carriers of the TB virus and so control is almost impossible and we have no way of finding out where the disease came from in our one heifer. Sadly even organic farms can succumb.

We have been without a phone for almost a week, again. BT have promised it will be restored to us when they have managed to hire a set of traffic lights!!!
We do have a mobile but signal is not great here and because we rarely use it no-one has the number and so we really do rely on our landline. Oddly, despite having no phone the internet still works... I don't understand how it all works much to the exasperation of the Sons who just raise their eyes to heaven and mutter 'Oh mother, you're hopeless!'

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Holiday Cottage Guests, Organic Farming

I've just waved off another pair of happy holiday-makers who have been here in the cottage for a week. It is always lovely when people leave saying how relaxed and peaceful their stay has been and knowing that they have enjoyed what we have to offer. That sounds awfully smug...it is not meant to, but we do appreciate our guests appreciating us!
One of the selling points of the cottage is that it is on an organic farm. We think that is very important and it seems to matter to a number of our holiday-makers. Many book to stay here because it is an organic farm, and also because it is something of a picture-book farm...very traditional. They like the idea that our milk goes into Yeo Valley yoghourt (through OMSCo the organic milk co-operative) and that we produce milk and meat without the use of chemicals and anti-biotics. These basic tenets of organic farming seem to be what the public latches onto and the fact that our animals are out in fields eating grass as they should be. Visitors enjoy seeing the cows come in for milking and ask a lot of questions about dairy farming and organic farming. There is still a lot ignorance about what organic really means and we do our best to explain how and why we farm as we do. Awareness of organic food seems to have waned in the last couple of years and the organic movement has struggled with the perception of it being a niche market for the well-off middle classes. We, as milk producers, cannot market our product as individuals (though there are some very successful entrepreneurial dairy farmers out there e.g Daioni) so are reliant on organisations such as the Soil Association, Organic Farmers & Growers and OMSCo to promote the organic dairy industry on our behalf. Giving people access to organic farms is very important which is why we encourage our guests to see what we do here and host school visits and have open days. It is only when the public see for themselves how organic farming works and why it is beneficial to the land, the livestock and people that sales of organic food will increase.

Despite the weather being somewhat changeable this August there are still plenty of lovely days with dramatic cloud-strewn skies and light breezes waving through the trees. We have had large gatherings of seagulls in our newly mown silage fields. The glimmering of the sun glints on the silver wings of the adult birds as they wheel around the sky and the flecked tawny colouring of the the young birds contrasts with purity of the white and grey plumage of the adults. The young birds are very raucous though not as noisy as the young buzzards we have resident on the farm. They have been particularly vocal recently as they soar above the yard circling on the thermals. Their voices mingle with the persistent cheerful chatter of the swallows as they perform their amazing acrobatics.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Shed building, Canoeing, Lovely Wild Wales

The building work is going on apace with the new roof over what was the silage pit and is now become a cubicle house for the cattle. The Sons have spent many hours welding the uprights and roof beams which are now ready for the corrugated sheets of tin for the roof. Progress is interrupted on this today as the weather is good and so the next cut of silage is underway. The grass was mown yesterday and after a night to wilt ince the dew had dried it will be full steam ahead with the rake & baler filling the fields once more with the black bales thst will be stacked in the yards to wait for winter. It has been such a good growing season that we have a plentiful supply of silage should we have a very long hard winter.

The Farmer has treated himself to new canoe,'a beautiful pea-green boat'! We have used a large Canadian canoe for many years but it has always been difficult to lift onto the roof of the car, although it served its purpose very well over the years. We now have a very neat inflatable canoe which is proving to be a great success. Known as the Peapod for obvious reasons it inflates using a hand pump in about 5 minutes and when we have finished playing it deflates also by using the pump and is packed away into a neat bag which goes into the back of the car...all so much easier than having to heave the Canadian up above our heads onto a rack. The Farmer is a very experienced canoeist and is very pleased with it, both on the sea and on freshwater and the grandchildren will have lot of fun too. One evening we took it for trial run to our favourite beach and although the water was quite choppy (too much so for me...a I am a flat as a mill pond canoeist!) the Farmer took the canoe out and off around the small headland and had a lovely time being watched by a curious seal who appeared at regular intervals keeping an eye on the proceedings as the sun went down casting a gilded path across the water. It was beautiful evening and as the Farmer was out on the water I sat in the evening sunshine reading 'Jane Eyre' for the nth time and guarding the picnic.

Today has dawned with heavy mist in the valley which is a sign of a glorious day to come, perfect for our holiday-makers who are discovering west Wales. The coast is packed with families enjoying the sandy beaches and the dolphin-spotting boat trips whilst inland up in the empty hills there are usually very few people and the wild places can be experienced in peace and tranquility. We always reccomend to our guests that they go up into the Cambrian mountains and see a hidden part of Wales, a secret country of remote moorland, silver streams running through wooded valleys lined with birch, oak and rowan and the cry of the buzzard.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Days Off, Country Wedding, Weaning Lambs

The Farmer and I took a day off and had picnic at a lovely little cove on the north Pembrokeshire coast. The tide was out hence the green apron of weed covered stones that are treacherously slippery whether the tide be in or out. It is however a quiet spot and the day we went quite deserted. We sat and watched the gulls and a lone oystercatcher bathing in the little freshwater stream that runs across the edge of the beach. A perfect antidote to the hectic rush at the farm.

After the hectic pace of getting yet more silage in we are now in whirl of people and having to be sociable...not that we don't enjoy people, but they seem to come in a never-ending stream barely giving us time to catch our breath.
Last Saturday we had the usual cottage changeover and then had to get to a wedding at lunch time which made for a breathless morning. The wedding was down in the village at the farm of some dear friends upon whom the weather gods were smiling. It was a glorious warm sunny day of blue skies having been preceded by a very wet and miserable day and the day after was also vile. However, the wedding took place in the pretty flower-filled garden of the farmhouse with a string quartet playing and everyone smiling and happy. The food for the reception had been supplied almost in its entirety from the farm...beautiful succulent home-grown fillet of beef, with carrots, cabbage & new potatoes dug from the garden the day before followed by summer pudding made with blackcurrants and raspberries picked from the garden. Perfect! A very happy day.

We have had more family visiting which is always lovely and as we have been busy with farming they have gone off to do their own thing and come back here for supper which is always a good arrangement.

Yesterday the Farmer had to attend the funeral of one of the postmen who delivered to the farm many years ago and always came in for a cup of tea (another country custom that has disappeared, the posties don't have time nowadays & are probably not allowed to linger & gossip). The Farmer & his brother went to the funeral as they had fond memories of the postman who used to come after work to help their father with hay-making and used to give the two boys lifts to end of the lane in the post van, to meet the school bus...another thing that would not be allowed now.
As the Farmer was away most of the day the Sons got on with weaning the lambs. The sheep were all brought in, the ewes separated and then taken to land we have across the valley while the lambs were put in fields nearer home. It is noisy but necessary job.