Tuesday, 4 September 2018

September. Local Agricultural Show

September has arrived bringing with it some glorious weather, this photo is of the mist rising off one of our recently ploughed fields this morning with the promise of a beautiful day of clear blue skies and sunshine. A neighbour arrived shortly after this picture wa taken to start power-harrowing the field in preparation for the new grass seed going in later today.

The past weekend was busy with us attending the local agricultural show. The Farmer is on the committeea and so was bsuy a couple of days beforehand helping organise the setting-up & on the day itself he was stewarding for the beef cattle judge which means he was in charge of the rosettes and in making sure all the entrants were in the right place at the right. With several classes to oversee it was a long day. We as a family did our usual thing of entering the baking and craft sections. The grandchildren entered various classes involving decorating weetabix (I kid you not!)and faces made of sweeties on a paper plate. My entries were a lttle more mature and conventional and I was very pleased though somewhat surprised to receive a first prize for my 'Colour Photograph suitable for a Birthday card'(see the photo below) with some very stiff competition and a third for my 'Floral Arrangement in a Cup & Saucer' (flower arranging is not really one of my primary skills!)along with a handful of placings for various bits of baking. So,an enjoyable if tiring day as we spend the whole day up on the show field which is great opportunity for meeting up friends and neighbours whom we don't see very often.

As well as cattle and sheep being shown, and a dog show and the Domestic and Handicraft, Floral and Horticultural competitions there are displays of vintage tractors and the local hunt, The Vale of Clettwr, come into the ring with the hounds which run in their usual joyous rabble and all the children are invited to come into the ring to meet the hounds face-to-face which is always hugely popular.

Monday, 27 August 2018

A Change in the Weather, Home-grown & Foraged Food

The lazy hazy days of summer seemed to have gone and in their wake we have had a lot of rain and gusty winds. We are not complaining though...the rain has transformed the countryside back to its more normal green lushness after the weeks of a dry parched landscape. It is lovely to see the rapid grass growth and the cows are very happy though we, and they, know that the new growth does not have the high sugar content of the spring growth and is not as palatable but it's better they have that that making further inroads into the silage which is needed for the winter.

While as farmers we rejoice in the change of weather it is not so great for our holiday-makers who had hoped for long days on sunny beaches but nonetheless there are many wonderful places to visit instead and a beach on blowy day can be exhilarating and joyous.

The pigs have been slaughtered and we do quite miss them, in fact the Farmer has ordered another two weaners which will arrive in a couple of weeks time. We have a neighbour who makes bacon and ham and so some parts of the pigs have been taken to her and we will collect some delicious home-made hams and packets of bacon from her in the next few days. Meanwhile we are enjoying roast pork with crackling served with our own new potatoes & carrots freshly dug from the garden followed by blackberry and apple crumble, made with blackberries from our hedgerows, apples from the orchard & custard made using our own milk...the perfect meal and all home-grown!
It has also been a very good season for field mushrooms and fried up with bacon and eggs(from our hens!)make a perfect start to the day.

The Farmer has been busy taking off the honey crop and thank goodness he did it before the weather got cooler and damp. It has been a perfect year for the bees with all that sunshine & we have a very good honey harvest. When the weather improves there should be more again.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Early Blackberries, Drought-Affected Farming

One of the surprising results of the hot weather of recent weeks has been the very early ripening of blackberries. I have never before picked them in July as I did last week and now at the very beginning of August I have been out again with my basket along the hedgerows and have had a goodly quantity. I think it is going to be very good season for the blackberries as there are trusses hanging heavy just waiting for the sunshine to return after these few days of overcast skies and intermittent rainfall.
We have certainly been grateful for the rain and the fields are begiinig to recover their green hues though with more hot weather forecast they may well go back to the scorched look of recnt weeks. The hot weather has had a real impact on farming and we've had to start feeding some of our winter store of silage to the cows, as have many other farmers across the country. What the long term effects will be are giving cause for concern with feed being in short supply and costs rising once winter comes. As always in farming we have to take the long view but at present the main worries are of supply and demand both for feeding livestock and the food supply chain to the shops. We, with a very heavy heart, along with many other livestock farmers, have had to sell some cattle in order to reduce the mouths to be fed as the shortage of grass becomes more of a problem. Many sheep farmers are selling lambs early and of lighter weight than they would like for the same reason. The relatively small amount of rain we have had will not, I fear make a great deal of difference though if we can get a third cut of silage in few weeks time we will be very happy but with a further heatwave predicted who knows what will happen. We have been fortunate that our water supply is holding out...our supply comes from springs and a bore hole, we have no mains water and so far both sources are continuing to run.

With the change in the weather we also had strong winds which unfortunately caused a lot of apples to be blown of the trees in the orchard, however they will not be wasted as the Farmer gathered them all up and gave to the pigs who just loved them.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

A Brief Change in the Weather, Filming with BBC

We have had rain! Not much admittedly, but enough to damp the dust. It was only fine drizzle really and of short duration and certainly will not make any real difference to our parched fields. We are now under grey skies with an oppressive humid atmosphere which is certainly a change from the clear blue skies and bright sunshine of the past weeksbut not so pleasant.
I saw this gorgeous Magpie butterfly while walking the dogs in the dampness. It was struggling through the wet grass so I carefully picked it up and placed back in the blackthorn hedge which is its proper habitat.

This past week saw another visit from the BBC film crew continuing their work on the project that has kept them & us busy since since March. The filming is now drawing to close and once the editing has been done, the voice-over and music recorded and everything finished to the BBC's satisfaction the programme should be due to be broadcast later in the year. I have seen some of the rough-cut footage and it is lovely, we were told it would be a very beautiful film and so it will be. The title is till being kept under wraps.
The ducks and pigs that we had to bring in have all grown well. Indeed the pigs are now ready for slaughter but until we have permission from the film company we have to keep them on, getting fatter whcih is not so good as they will getting past being porkers and turning into big sows. The ducks which arrived here as cute fluffy ducklings are now handsome full grown ducks and lead a happy life going to the pond each morning and then bringing themselves back to their pen in the late afternoon.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Summer Fruits, German Guests, Music for Penyrallt, Slow Holiday Season.

It is the season for soft fruit and the Farmer has brought in blackcurrants which I shall make into jam later. Despite the lack of rain over the past weeks the blackcurrants have done well though our raspberry crop is almost non existent, sadly, as they are quite my favourite of the summer fruits.

We have had a lovely German family from Frankurt staying in the holiday cottage for the past two weeks. It turns out that Herr M. is a very talented musician and specialises in rennaissance music but is skilled in other musical disciplines as well, so much so that after hearing the Farmer playing some traditional Welsh dance tunes he set to and has composed a piece of music for us, entitled Penyrallt Rondo, which is quite lovely. It is based around typical Welsh tunes but with an interesting variation. A really lovely gift for us and one by which we will certainly remember these guests.

Our German guests leave today and disappointingly we have no more holiday-makers arriving for the next two weeks. It is proving to be a very difficult year for the holiday accommodation business here. Not just us but all our friends and acquaintances who run holiday cottages, glamping sites and B&B's are saying the same thing. I certainly have never had empty weeks in July & August before and one just hopes that last minute bookings will come in. No-one can come up with a good reason why bookings are down this year. (It can't be the Trump effect!) Admittedly there is an over-supply of holiday accommodation but even so one would hope that the glorious weather might encourage more 'staycationers' to come and discover lovely west Wales.
(For all availability in Penyrallt Fach Cottage please go to www.penyrallt.co.uk)

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Drought-hit Farmers & a Parched Countryside

The heatwave continues and the view across the valley is no longer one of lush green fields with plenty of grass but on of dry brown, parched land broken up the the hedges whuch are managing to remain green and clumps of woodland. The fields are almost crisp as one walks across them and we all dread a carelessly thrown cigarette butt or piece of glass or even a shiny can refecting the light into a tinder-dry patch of grass. While we have been fortunate in this area not to have wildfires breaking out on our moorlands it could so easily happen with everywhere so dessicated.
The fields are not able to provide the cows with all their food at present and many farmers, including ourselves are having to feed silage that was intended for the winter. What the knock-on effect of this will have on milk production and fodder supplies when winter does come is anyone's guess.
We are fortunate that our water supply is holding out. We do not have mains water anywhere on the farm and are reliant on springs and a bore hole. Some thirty-odd years ago when we had a couple of very hot dry summers our water supply was low and all water had to be given to the cows as a priority (they need at least 10 gallons each a day)and we gave them free access to the little river at the bottom of the farm. I had to take the Sons, who were very little at the time, down to kind neighbours in the village for baths and do my laundry (I didn't fancy taking it down to the river and banging it on rocks!). We are not in that situation this year and our water supply has been added to by a recently drilled bore hole but I do keep waiting for a hint that we need to go steady on water consumption in the house.

Despite the lack of rain the roses this year have been superb. Apparently they liked the hard frosts of the winter. Looking out from the office window there is wonderful tumbling froth of Kiftsgate which even now after a couple of weeks of flowwering is till looking good. The other, mostly anonymous, roses in the gardens are doing well and give a splash of colour where most other plants are really struggling with the hot weather but not so much in that they are thirsty as in the sun shrivelling up their buds before they have chance to open as has happened on a large hypericum which should be covered in gleaming yellow flowers and instead has dried up tight little brown buds.
Below are Kiftsgate, Cuisses des Nymphes & Willy Lobb.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

House-Guests & Beach Picnic, Hot Weather, Wild Swimming

Another very busy week having had some friends from London staying for a long weekend. We took them over over to the coast one evening with the canoes, a primus and a frying pan and cooked supper on the beach as the sun went down, an idyllic end to a very pleaant visit.
The film crew from the BBC then arrived for two more days of intense busy-ness. Most of their time was spent with the Farmer filming the chickens and thier behaviour in certain situations such as how they react when a kite that looks like a bird of prey is flown over their run. Apparently some very good footage was taken with the poor hens geting rather panicky. When the poultry session was ended it was the turn of the cows again and they were walked into the yard and then back out to their field and again some good shots were obtained. The project has been going on since March (see previous posts) with the film crew arriving here every few weeks to film farm animal behaviour and should end up with an interesting programme. I will keep you posted on its title, as yet a closely guarded secret that I'm not allowed to reveal, and its broadcast date which should be sometime in the winter.

The very hot weather continues and whilst is glorious and wonderful to have a proper summer such as one remembers from childhood it does make doing anything rather trying. The Farmer comes in dripping with perspiration and needing to change his shirt after being out fencing or moving the sheep. I often make lemonade in hot weather and yesterday afternoon the Farmer came in, with a neighbour in tow, asking for some but of course I hadn't made any in readiness so he decided to do it himself...with the result being that having failed to secure the lid on the liquidiser jug properly it spun off and we had lemonade and all the bits of chewed up lemons all over the kitchen wall running down to the floor, dripping into drawers and generally making a real mess that was very tedious to clear up and a waste of good lemons! The Farmer's comment was thank goodness our neighbour was there to witness the disaster as it reduced the level of wrath unleashed upon him by the Farmer's Wife! The neighbour, needless to say,thought it all hilarious!

With the intense heat of the days by late afternoon the Farmer has been doing a bit of wild-swimming (swimming with dragon-flies rather then dolphins!) in one of our ponds and encouraging the dogs to join him as their are finding the heat very difficult, especially the black labs, but even Molly our old lady sheepdog will go in with persuasion and clearly feels better for it afterwards.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Summertime, House-Martins Return

Summertime and the livin' is very easy for the cows out grazing in the sunshine while the farmers are so very busy gathering in the grass for the silage to feed the cows over winter. As always we are thinking ahead despite the temptation to sit and enjoy the glorious weather and planning the work schedule for the tractors and drivers for the next few days hoping the weather will hold so they can get all the contracting work done. We got our own silage clamp finished yesterday and all sheeted up as the next cut will be baled.

The Farmer & I were very thrilled this afternoon to realise that we have a colony of house-martins busily building their their neat little mud-nests under the eaves of the farmhouse along side the nests of the swallows. I have not known martins to be here in the thirty-odd years I've lived here though the Farmer says he remembers them in great numbers in his childhood. They can have arrived only in the past day or so as their nests are still very little more than a wodge (technical term!) of mud stuck to the wall in the shadow to the eaves. Why they should returned now is a great mystery, but wonderful. We shall be watching their progress with a fascinated eye and hope they will raise successful broods. We now have colonies of swifts shrieking and diving along with the madcap aerobatics of the swallows with their cheerful chatter and the pairs of martins busily chittering away to each other as they bring their beakfuls of mud to the wall, all living in and around the house and farm buildings and sharing the air space with the numbers of sparrows that are permanent residents.

Whilst walking along the drive the other day I was able to photograph this Speckled Wood butterfly as it rested briefly on a beech leaf. So beautiful.