Tuesday, 11 October 2022

Autumn Fruits & Autumn Calving

We are having some glorious autumnnal weather here in west Wales. Once the early morning mist in the valley has lifted we are treated to blue skies and clear sunshine with that indefinable scent of autumn pervading the air. On the farm the Farmer has been busy gathering the apple harvest and making many gallons of delicious juice that is frozen to see us through the winter. it has been a very good year for apples with heavy crops eveywhere. A number of neighbours have been bringing their apples up to the farm for pressing which the Farmer does free of any charge and provides a service for all those people who do not have any means of storage for their fruit. As well as the prolific apple crop the season is seeing a huge quantity hazelnuts which I have gathered. There are also masses of acorns and beech mast neither of which we can make use of, and the hawthorn trees are glowing with their rich red haws. The trees are still in leaf though the colours are beginning to change and the ground is increasingly littered with fallen leaves. This time of year is when we are are in the full throes of calving and the Farmer is kept busy each morning & evening feeding the steadily growing numbers of calves. We have been using sexed-semen in the AI (artificial insemination) programme and the results ahve been almost 100% successful in giving us heifer calves...I say almost 100% succesful in that we have had one bull calf! We are milking about 80 cows at present and the new heifer calves will be be reared as 'followers' to join the herd in about two years time. As always in farming the long view is taken.
Although the summer is well over Elder Son has been out again this week making silage for a neighbour and though it was only a small number of bales off a rather wet field it is additional fodder for the winter.

Friday, 9 September 2022

Memories of Queen Elizabeth 11

The nation, indeed, the whole world, is in mourning for HM the Queen who died yesterday. It is rather wonderful how deeply loved she was and this may be in part due to the fact that many of us have never known a time without her being at the helm and of course for the steadfastness and dignity with which she carried out her duty. There is genuine affection and grief being expressed by multitudes of people all around the globe, everyone from political leaders to the humblest members of the public has something to say about a woman who has been a fixture in all our lives for 70 years. I saw her several times, once as a small child in Cardiff when the royal yacht Britannia was in port and my father somehow had got tickets for us as a family to go to the docks to see the Queen & Prince Philip come in a very shiny black car to meet the ship and go aboard for the next stage of whatever journey they were on. My main memory is of a smiling policeman ushering us to a good vantage place to see them arrive & the Queen and Prince Philip waving to the crowds as the car drove through. The second time was many years later when the Farmer & I with Elder Son, then aged about a year, were up in a small Welsh market town, Llanidloes, deep in the hills of mid-Wales. We were walking along the main street of the town and suddenly realised there were barriers in the street and people gathering so we joined the small crowd and the next thing there was the Queen walking up the street wearing a bright red coat and white hat. It was very bizarre and the sense of excitement in this very small obscure market town was palpable. People were hanging out of windows above the shops and cheering and waving flags. I remember seeing very old farmers in the crowds wearing their best suits and war medals who had clearly come down from their isolated farms for this very special occasion. The Farmer held Elder Son up on his shoulders so he'd be able to say that he had seen the Queen when he was grown up...I must remind him of that story! Another occasion was when I happened to be in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Queen & the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the Shakespeare Memorial theatre for what appeared to be very low-key visit. As far as I remember there were no great crowds and a minimal police presence. The Queen & the Duke both paused on the steps of the theatre and waved to the small crowd before going in. The Farmer is proud to say that he was the first Queen's Scout to come from Carmarthenshire and because of that he was invited to read the lesson at a special service in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Various members of my family have met the Queen and the now King Charles 111 from time to time and the collective memories are treasured. Long Live the King!

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Third Cut Silage, Local Agricultural Show, Summer and Autumn Fruit Harvest

Summer is at an end and there is a distinct air of autumn now with the drop in temperature and the beginning of the leaves changing colour. The onset of the new season does not mean an end to our silage making however, there is still a lot of grass to cut and bring in. The re-growth since tha last cut has been good and is now ready. The picture shows the rake being taken along our farm lane to the fields following the mowers which have gone ahead and the rake will arrive in the fields to find the grass cut and lying waiting to be raked into swathes to be ready for the baler and wrapper. The Farmer and Sons are going to have few more long days before it is all done. Summer is now ending and it has been an amazing time, with glorious weather, perfect for the children off school and for holiday-makers. Here in west Wales we have been very fortunate in not suffering the drought conditions that have been affecting other parts of the country but we do appreciate how difficult it has been for farmers elsewhere...but the rain will come. Our local agricultural show is taking place this coming weekend and yesterday the Farmer was up on the show field helping with the preparations, putting up hurdles for pens for the sheep-showing and generally being busy. I have had to put my mind to what I shall be entering in the 'Domestic & Handicrafts Section'. I shall enter some baking, and jars of jam & jelly and possibly some floral arrangements such as an arrangement in a teacup and a teapot, fiddly little things that I quite enjoy doing, though I am not a skillled flower arranger! The Farmer will be entering some turned woodwork & maybe something in the home-brewed alchohol classes. As usual I have left it all to last minute, I should have started planning these things a couple of months ago as I know a lot of people do. In the end it's not so much about the competition as supporting the show which is right on our doorstep and involves a lot of effort by a small number of people. These events need to be supported otherwise they will just disappear, which would be great loss to agricultural communities all over the country.
Thanks to the wonderful summer the Farmer has had a very good season with the bees. He took extracted honey last week and so far we have had about 200lbs and there will be more to come though probably not quite such a quantity this late in the season. Apart from the honey bees enjoying the hot weather we have noticed many bumble bees busy working in the gardens and along the hedgerows as well as other pollinating insects making the tree canopy hum. The bramble harvest has been too and I have frozen many pounds as well making jam and jellies. We have also had a good crop of plums, again put in the freezer and made into plum & apple jelly which glows ruby-red in the jars. The next fruit to be harvested will be apples which the Farmer will use for cider and some will be frozen as juice. there is going to be glut of tomatoes any day now and so I need to plan what to do with them. We have good stock of chutneys so I think I will make sauces and passata. I do enjoy this time of year although keeping up with need to preserve all the fruit before it goes over can be quite a challenge and after all there is only so much jam or chutney needed.

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Late Brood of Chicks, Summer

A few weeks ago the Farmer noticed that when shutting the hens up one night he was one short so naturally came to the conclusion that Charlie Fox had helped himself to quick snack, however last week what should appear but the missing speckedly hen proudly bringing a brood of ten chicks with her. Such a lovely surprise and so late in the season. They are all now ensconced safely in a run where they spend their days rootling through the grass and cheeping away to each other with Mother Hen quietly talking to them all the time. We have been experiencing very hot weather lately, summer as I remember it as a child. We are continually being fed scare stories of climate-change doom but while not a complete climate-change sceptic I do sometimes feel that there is something of an over-reaction. This is just summer as it should be. We here in west Wales are fortunate that we have a very high annual rainfall and here on the farm we have our own water supply. For people on mains water who are being told to be careful with their water usage at present it must be difficult as many area of Britain are now under water restrictions and hose-pipe bans are in force so many gardens will be suffering. That all said I think the weather is due to change next week and hopefully there will be some much-needed rain. Meanwhile we make the most of the summer by sitting in the garden under the shade of trees and taking the opportunity to do very little as it is too hot for most activity. Of course the cows are milked everyday and the usual farm routine continues but extra things are put on hold until it cools down. Our guests in the holiday cottage are enjoying the weather and spending long days on the lovely beaches athat are only a short drive away and come back reporting swimming in warm seas which is quite unusual for this part of the world!

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Summer Farming, Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, Second Homes

Over a month has gone by since my last post and now we are at the beginning of August and as is usual at this time year things have been very busy. The Farmer and Sons have of course been spending many long hours on tractors bringing in the silage crop and it is now all in and safely sheeted up ready for the winter. In the past weeks we, and the rest of the country have experienced very hot weather though we have been lucky here in the west as temperatures did not reach the heights felt in the south-east of England. It was still nonetheless very hot and much time was spent just sitting in the garden shade too lethargic to do much else. Simple meals of salads were prepared and laundry was done but the daughters-in-law and I found ourselves doing the minimum as regards any other domestic duties. The menfolk did suffer as they still had to work but as long as the air-con in the tractors kept going and they had large quantities of water with them they were okay on the whole. Now we have had several days of much needed rain and today is beautiful with sunshine and a light breeze. One of Wales' major cultural events is taking place this week, the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (National Eisteddfod) which this year is being held at the small market town of Tregaron up in the Cambrian mountains about 30 miles from here. Each year the eistedddfod is held in a different location around Wales, altenating between north and south. An eisteddfod is a competitive festival of arts and performance that holds a special place in the culture of Wales. Eisteddfodau (the plural form) are held all over Wales culminating in the national event which attracts artists, poets and musicians from across the Welsh speaking world. The Farmer & I hope to go up later in the week to see friends competing in the choral competition and to experience the whole thing having not been before. The school summer holidays started three weeks ago and I'm pleased that I have bookings for the holiday cottage running into September. That said there are fewer visitors around this season and talking to a cafe-owner at the coast yesterday, business is very slow. It is probably due to the price of fuel and the general increase in the cost of living meaning people are thinking carefully about their holiday spending. Even people who own a property in Wales but live in England are thinking twice about the situation, especially as there is a very real problem in the small coastal villages where the majority of properties are not lived all year round. The hamlet we were in yesterday has about a dozen houses only two of which are lived in full time and in another very much larger village just down the coast there are only 6 are occupied full time. This is a situation replicated all around Wales, particularly of course on the coast and it means that the once thriving communities have been eroded, village schools close down, local shops and post offices shut as they cannot survive on the six weeks income brought by visitors in the summer. Also properties have been priced out of reach of local families who would like to stay in the villages where they grew up but cannot afford the properties coming onto the market. It is difficult situation and one that is seeing drastic action being taken by Welsh Government in the form of high council taxes on second homes. Some second home owners are now saying they will sell their holiday properties but the prices are still more than can be realised by local young families. It is going to be interesting watching how this will all play out.

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Midsummer's Day, Summer Solstice

A glorious Midsummer's Day, west Wales at it's very best, flower-filled hedgerows, fields of sheep and cattle dozing in the sunshine, dusty lanes and roses in the gardens, all just lovely. While I am able to admire the glories of summer from the comfort of my garden and cool kitchen when the heat gets too much for my chilly northern spirit, the menfolk have been very busy in this wonderful weather taking tractors and kit around the parish making silage for the neighbours. Long hours again and heavy loads leaving in their wake fields mown to a paler shade of green after their lush rich grass has been taken away. The colour changes across the valley are beautiful as each farm works their fields in a ceaseless round and while everyone is doing the same job but at different times, the patterns of the patchwork move like a green-shaded kaleidoscope. The summer solstice is of course a milestone in the passage of the year and many people were allowed to gather at Stonehenge this year to see the rising of the sun this morning and there will have been gatherings at other important sites around the country where people have erected stones or built chambers to capture the magic of the rising of the summer sun on the longest day with bright blessings to all.
This is perfect weather for the bees and the Farmer has just gone to check them as at this time of day (mid-afternoon) they are out busily foraging so the hives are reasonably quiet and more accessible without the need to kit up in full bee-suit and gloves. If all goes well then we should have good crop of honey this year. Our bucolic pastoral life here seems a world away from the madness that is going on in the outside world with train strikes all over the country and travellers frustrated and angry at the disruption the strikes are causing. Without wanting to sound smug all I can say I'm glad we don't have to go too far from home these days.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Sheep Shearing

The Farmer has been busy shearing the last of our few sheep. We have only 30-odd ewes these days and he tackles the shearing over a couple of days, pacing himself as it is is hard work. I used to help many years ago packing the fleeces but somehow have got out of the way of it more recently (a touch of sciatica doesn't help!!). It just happened that this year both the Sons were off the farm doing silage and digger work elswhere though Elder Son did come and help catch the ram and hold him, he is very big and extremely heavy to manhandle for shearing. As always the sheep are relieved to have their heavy coats removed as the weather is getting warmer. The effort that goes into producing wool is in no way echoed by the price we get for it. Last year we sent our wool in to British Wool and were paid somehwere in the region of £36 for the 81 kilos of wool and I doubt that this year's wool cheque will be much better. Is it worth the trouble of shearing, packing, transporting the wool sacks to the collection centre and then being charged for the collection? Perhaps we should just use the wool for mulching round our apple trees and in the veg. garden? On a more positive note we are now having some beautiful weather after some weeks of unseasonably cold and wet days. The countryside is looking stunning and the gardens are coming into their own. We have elder trees in full blossom at present, so pretty with their broad flat creamy clusters of tiny flowers. I have made elderflower cordial in previous years and neighbours make elderflower champagne which is very potent stuff but I will admit I don't like it very much. The Farmer who is going off all day on a tractor turning grass over 8o acres around the parish has just come in with the remark that I have company for the day in the form of a solitary newly-hatched chick. It is in a box here in the kitchen and is very, very vocal and the cause of much curiosity for my terrier who must be be kept well away from it as her natural instincts will get the better of her and it will be end of one chick. The Farmer had set up his incubator with a number of eggs in it but only the one hatchling has survived. These things happen but we'll do all we can to make sure the one lives on. Here is picture of my rather lovely lupins with their guardian Buddha.

Sunday, 29 May 2022

Silage making past & present

After three days of hard work the first cut silage is now safely in and shrouded in it's plastic counterpane held down by hundreds of tyres (the photo below shows the clamp at the beginning of putting the tyres on) many tyres are to compress it over the next few months before the winter comes and the cows are in. So much preparation and anxiety goes into these three days and there will be at least two more sessions of the same as the summer progresses. We are at the mercy of the weather over which we have no control so when each cut is safely in the deep sighs of relief are palpable. In years past we used to have contractors come in to 'do the silage' with the Farmer and in those days they would stop for lunch and come into my kitchen for a full sit-down meal washed down with copious quantities of tea. These mealtimes were very cheerful affairs with the men discussing the progress of the harvest, gossiping and recollecting stories of the local characters and generally having a good social time. Much of the conversation would be conducted in Welsh interspersed with some fine Anglo-Saxon profanities accompanied by a slight apology to me as the only female in the room. We were one of the last farms in the area where the men got fed and they were always very appreciative with a particular fondness for home-made bread and fruitcake. After a mid afternoon break for tea & cake which I would take out to the silage pit in a large basket filled with thermos flasks and Tupperware boxes, everyone would sit on the grass for ten minutes of refreshment, again full of chat before continueing with the relays of grass-laden trailers. As they often worked on into the night, sometimes not finishing until 2 or 3 in the morning, I would leave a pile of sandwiches and the ubiquitous fruit-cake and, now I remember, ginger beer which they all loved, on the kitchen table while I went to bed. Nowadays there is no time for meal-breaks and so the social aspect of this time of year has largely disppeared which is very sad.