Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Country Wedding, Bees & Birds, Returning Visitors

A month since my last post and what a busy month it has been. We've seen our younger son married, had all the family to stay, made silage, had the decorators in, done lots of bee-keeping, had several holiday-cottage changeovers, sheared the sheep and all with the aid of glorious weather. Now that the rush of activity is over the weather has turned and we are now enduring cold wet and windy conditions.

Younger Son's wedding went off without a hitch on a beautiful May afternoon in a lovely sunken garden,(a former slurry pit!) at a local 'wedding venue' only a couple of miles from home. It was a very pretty country wedding with lots of flowers decorating the wonderful oaken pavilion where the ceremony was held and along the walk up through a meadow to a garlanded arch leading to a vast triple tipi for the reception.The tipi had been beautifully decorated with flowers and bunting and was very pretty. Flowers were dispalyed in milk churns and old glass milk bottles and the wedding favours for guests were tiny jars of honey from our bees, which everyone thought was a lovely touch. The tipi held the 120 guests easily with plenty of space for the evening guests as well which brought the numbers up to about 200. It was a wonderful day, everyone very happy and a great mix of people from farmers (the groom) to pharmacists (the bride) and all professions in between. Guests had come from all over the country, Yorkshire, Herefordshire, Dorset, Cambridgeshire, Nottingham, London and even Ireland, which was wonderful as west Wales is a long way from almost everywhere! There was also a goodly number of local friends and everyone had great time. (www.welshgreenweddings.co.uk)

May has been a busy month for the Farmer and his bees. He has had five swarms and with collecting boxes out around the neighbourhood and beyond is hoping for more. The most difficult one lodged itself in between some silage bales and the past few days has seen the Farmer trying his best to encourage them into a hive but with little success so far. Honey has already been extracted and which is very early and it looks as though it is going to be good season.

'A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
But a swarm in July is not worth a fly.'

Silage was done the week after the wedding despite Younger Son having gone away on a short honeymoon. It was one of the earliest cuts we have ever taken and with the rain that we have had over the last few days there will be a good second crop before too long.

The countryside is looking wonderful as always at this time of year. The hedgerows are full of flowers and many of our hedges have tall elegant laburnum trees which are all their glory of hanging golden tresses. It has been a magnificent year for the May blossom, the trees thick with flowers like clotted cream and the bluebells have been astounding in their blue-ness. We recently drove past an ancient oak woodland spreading for a couple of miles and the whole way there was a thick ocean of intense madonna blue such as I have not seen before, a truly wondrous sight.
The birds are never quiet with the squabbling sparrows in the hedges & the chittering of the aerobatic swallows as they harvest the flying insects to feed their broods in the eaves of the house. Sadly this year the house martins have not returned after their first sojourn here in over 30 years last summer but the swifts are back. We have been fortunate to have nuthatches nest in a crevice in the stonework of one of our buildings and have been watching them returning to feed their young who bravely poke their heads out to watch for their meal arriving. In another building which has a row of pigeon holes, there is family of jackdaws have taken up residence and again there is always frantic noise from the hatchlings when they realise their parents have returned home.


It is very touching when we have visitors who came as children to the holiday cottage returning after many years with their own children. Their memories of childhood holidays spent here are so vivid and apparently important that they wish their offspring to experience what they had. We must be getting something right. Very often the fondest memories are of the dogs and watching the cows being milked. Of course when it has been a gap of over ten years the dogs will have changed but the new ones are just as friendly and endearing as those remembered and are quite happy to be petted and fussed over as much their predecessors to the delight of the children.
Happy children = happy parents = happy holidays = happy memories.


Thursday, 25 April 2019

Spring, Lambing , First Silage, Wedding Preparations

Its been a while since my last post here and for no really good reason other than general busy-ness, heavy colds, lambing and wondering what the weather will bring next. In one week we had snow to be followed only two days later by glorious sunshine that enabled us to sit out in a friend's garden watching the butterflies. Since then spring has truly sprung...the birdsong is cacophanous and wonderful and the 'flowers that bloom in the spring tra-la' are stunning with blossom on the cherry trees and now beginning to open on the fruit treees in the orchards, to say nothing of the usual mighty show put on by the blackthorn hedges. The narcissus are now almost finished but the cowslips, primroses, bluebells and violets are embroidering the hedgebanks and hidden corners around the gardens. With the lovely weather over the Easter holidays our guests in the holiday cottage had a perfect time for exploring the area and returning to the farm to spend the warm light evenings sitting in the hot tub with a glass of wine. Today it is now once again cold and wet with a chill little breeze...but the birds keep singing.

Lambing is finished and although we only have 40 ewes this year they kept the Farmer busy and with a number of difficulties mostly caused by the ewes being too fat, there were times when a deal of effort was put into keeping both ewes and lambs alive but on the whole lambing went well.
With the fine weather of recent days we even made our first cut of silage, the earliest we have ever done it. A number of other farms in the area also took advantage of the sunshine and did the same. Next month will see the proper start to the silage season and we, and everybody else will be flat out mowing and baling, into the early hours very often, long days and long nights of hard work hoping the weather will hold good for us all.

In two weeks time Younger Son gets married and so we are sprucing things up in readiness for an invasion of friends and family for a long weekend of jollity. The wedding itself is being held not on the farm but a couple of miles up the road at the Ceridwen Centre which is run by friends of ours who specialise in 'green weddings' and do it superbly well (). In preparation for the influx of visitors over three or four days, we are busy mowing lawns to within an inch of their lives, tidying up herbaceous borders, planting up pots with colourful flowers, touching up paint-work and I'm even hoping that the shabbiest of our spare bedrooms will be re-decorated in time (not by me, thank goodness...I have a marvellous painter-and-decorator who is very patient with my somewhat last minute requests for his services!) I'm now off to buy paint!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Holiday with Grandchildren, Lambing, Daffodils

Last week was half term in Wales and so the Farmer & I took the opportunity to take our grandchildren away for a short holiday. It was the first time they had gone away with us overnight but it was hugely successful. I had found a delightfuly eccentric cottage only two minutes walk from the beach on the Parrog at Newport in Pembrokeshire so althought the children were with us for only one night we spent almost the whole time either on the beach or walking the coast path. Both the children(8 and 5 years respectively) are good walkers and were quite happy to keep going to see what was round the next corner and finding tiny hidden coves where they scrambled over rocks and searched for sea anemones and pretty shells in the pools, to say nothing of competing with their grandfather in playing ducks-and-drakes (skimming flat stones across the water to see how many 'hops' the stone would make). The children's parents came to fetch them home on the second evening and the Farmer and I then had two days to recover! We were incredibly lucky that this little jaunt coincided with the most glorious weather...it really was like high summer which is of course all wrong for the last week of February! To think that this time last year we were in the grip of freezing temperatures and snow and ice making life so difficult.

We returned to the farm to find that lambing has begun. We didn't have a great start with some lambs not surviving and a dead ewe but things have now improved and last night we had a set of lovely strong triplets to add to the tally. We are lambing only about 30 ewes so every loss is significant but now things are looking up and hopefully we will not have too many difficulties from now on. Fortunatley the weather is reasonable despite the occasional rain shower so the ewes and lambs can go out once tha lambs are a couple of days old.

With March of course come the daffodils and we have so many all around the farm, of many different varieties from tiny little tete-a-tete and my favourite Tenby daffodils the little 'wild' ones to the rather vulgar flamboyant golden trumpets that herald in the spring. With strong winds we have had over the last couple of days a number of the daffies don't d=survive th buffetting so I go round each morning gathering the fallen flowers and so so I have jugs of glorious golden bouquets all through the house.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Organic Inspection, Red Tractor Assurance


Today we have our Soil Association inspection. This means that our organic integrity is examined with a fine-toothed comb and every minute detail of our farming practice is scrutinised and logged. The Farmer has to produce a paper trail of everything that occurs on the farm from the monthly milk cheque to rodent control. It is right that there should be rigorous checking of all that happens here and on every other farm in the country but every now and then one feels that the nit-picking detail goes a bit far but if it means we have our organic licence renewed for another year then we will co-operate down to the last No Smoking sign and invoice for cattle feed. It is not only the Soil Association certification that is being checked but also our Red Tractor assurance (www.redtractor.org.uk)which is the farm and food assurance scheme that promotes and regulates food quality in the UK...'Traceable, Safe & Farmed with Care'.




Monday, 4 February 2019

Winter Weather, Holiday-makers from Hell. Closure of the Last Bank

During the past few days while parts of the rest of the country have had proper snow fall we have had only heavy frost and an icing-sugar dusting of snow, enough to make the countryside look very pretty but not enough, to the disappointment of our small grand-children, for sledging or building snowmen. The ponds on the farm were all frozen over and one was very cautious walking on icy concrete but apart from that the weather has not had any great impact on us. Today it is now much milder and with blue skies and wintry sunshine. In fact we enjoy the cold dry conditions...anything that is not mud is always welcome.

A recent addition to the amenities we offer with the holiday cottage has been a wood-fired hot tub (see previous posts)and it has proved very popular with our guests since it went in in at the end of last summer. Until now guests have treated it with respect and have used it with practical common sense. However, in the last week we had some less considerate guests who when very drunk abused the facility by burning coal in the stove despite the plentiful supply of logs that we provide, and getting it so hot that the metal fire box has distorted and scorched the wooden panel that separates the fire-box from the sitting area. They also burned any wooden item they could find including the stirrer paddle. Things at some point must have got scarily out of hand and the fire extinguisher & fire blanket provided seem to have been added to the conflagration...all that remains of them are the blackened burnt-out canister of the extinguisher! All this went on at night long after the Farmer & I had gone to bed so we were unaware of this awful activity until the following day. On discovering what had been going on I was speechless! When the perpetrators were confronted with the results of their activities they were very contrite and apologetic and have since replaced the fire extinguisher, the fire blanket and the paddle (with the promise of a replacement fire-box, but on that we will wait and see). Fortunately the fire-box was not as badly damaged as we first thought and is still usable. In the twenty-five or so years that we have been letting the cottage we have never had such a bad scenario (including the state of the cottage itself)...young men away from home with too much drink, a very bad combination.

Last week the one remaining bank in our local, bustling small market town closed it's doors for ever leaving us and many hundreds of other rural people with a 30+ mile round trip to the nearest bank of any kind. The local community is furious, frustrated and helpless in the face of bureaucratic decisions being made by faceless people in London who have no understanding of how rural communities work and a total disregard for the distances now having to be travelled in order to do our basic banking. No thought has been given to people reliant on limited public transport, older peole who not have the use of a computer for online banking and for all of us who have used the banks on a weekly basis for so many years...apparently one of the reasons given for closure was insufficient footfall. Well, I have rarely been in the bank without having to wait in a queue no matter what day of the week, not just on market day. The town will suffer badly. A butcher acquaintance of ours found that his takings dropped by 40% when all the banks in his village had closed. People will go elswhere to do their banking and by default, their shopping.

Monday, 21 January 2019

January, Brexit

Here we are more than half way through January already and a beautiful frosty morning with the sun glimmering through the mist that veils the valley promising a fine day after several damp grey days that lower the spirits and increase the mud. However, to cheer the soul there are the first snowdrops nodding in the banks under the hedges and even some early daffodils are opening their green-sheathed heads to gleam golden in corners of the gardens and paddocks giving promise of the triumphant displays that we shall enjoy as the year progresses.

With the grandchildren having gone bcack to school the farm has settled back into its usual routine and everyone is busy each morning with the chores of feeding and bedding down the cattle before getting on with much needed jobs such as fencing and keeping up with the supply of firewood. In addition to these essential jobs the Farmer is finding time to build a shepherd's hut for our daughter-in-law who has has decided to replace her canvas-covered gypsy wagon for something that will give a longer letting season. The shepherd's hut will be delightful and alongside the cabin which contains a small kitchen/sitting-room and bathroom gives opportunity for a truly rustic retreat overlooking our beautiful valley(www.oldoakgypsywagon.co.uk).

Out in the wider world we have to endure the shambles that is Brexit. The majority of Britain's farmers voted to leave the EU and now we are going to face some of the biggest challenges to food production in this country since the second world war. Some politicians say that a no-deal Brexit will be a disaster for farming but appparently opinion is divided amongst those MPs with agricutural constituencies. Whatever the outcome of it all we farmers will just keep our heads down and carry on doing what we do best which is producing food in times of uncertainty, in other words carrying on as normal. After all we farmers are very adaptable to circumstances, whether it be being held hostage by the weather or squabbling politicians.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Family Christmas Away

It is New Year's Eve and having been away for Christmas I must end the the old year with a 'tidying-up' post.
The Farmer & I instead of doing what has become a our usual Christmas escape, a run down to St. David's cathedral for choral matins on Christmas morning, this year went to join all my family in a remote and rambling farmhouse in the sheep-strewn hills of Radnorshire. Our Sons stayed home of course to attend to the cows and had Christmas with small children while the Farmer & I had a splendid time in a party of twelve including all the grown-up nephews & nieces some of whom we had not seen for nearly two years. It was lovely and on Boxing Day more family arrived to make a total of eighteen for the traditional lunch of left-over turkey.
We were staying in a very old farmhouse that suited our needs perfectly and the owners had provided a beautiful Christmas tree for us. We three days of much laughter, too much food and very good company.
On Christmas morning some of us went to the eucharist service in the lovely, small, ancient church of Llandeilo Graban where we sang carols most heartily and listened to a very heart-warming homily from the cheerful and enthusiastic vicar. His message was that even if one is not a church-goer the fact that on the special days days of the year such a Christmas a need is felt to mark the day by going to a place of spirituality is important.
We had reared turkeys again this year and so were able to supply the birds for lunch as well some home-cured hams from the television pigs (see previous posts) while the rest of the family brought Christmas puddings and many other good things. We had excellent coffee as one niece is a barista home briefly from the Antipodes and a variety of cocktails concocted by one of my nephews who has become expert in that field having been working at Hawksmoor in Spitalfields in London.

The weather has been very un-Christmassy, warm and damp with heavy grey skies and mud everywhere. I do hope that we get some good cold weather soon.

On our return after three days away the most important thing that needed to be done was the slaughter of the two pigs that that the Farmer had bought to replace the tv. pigs after they had been been turned into sausages, hams and joints. So this week has seen the cold store in use once more with the carcases hanging before being butchered into the necessary parts. We will take meat to a local butcher to be made into sausages though the Farmer will cure the hams himself. Home-cured ham is delicious, quite different to commercial ham. The last hams made here were cured using dark brown sugar and there was definite treacly hint to the ham which was very good.

Younger Son is hosting a New Year's party this evening to which he has friends coming from all over the place so, no doubt, the farm will be dotted about with hangover victims tomorrow. Unfortunately the barista cousin is on her way back to New Zealand so is not available to make sure of a goodly flow of coffee to clear the heads in the morning.


Blwyddyn Newydd Dda Happy New Year

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Storm-tossed Gulls

As I sit here in the farm office I am looking out onto a sky full of gulls, hundreds of them wheeling about against a grey cold sky. They are pure white as they come closer to the house but those that are drifting higher are the colour of shadows as they toss and turn in the blustering winds that are buffeting the house and causing the trees to wave their leafless limbs in supplication against the storm. All night the tempest has roared causing the old house, which must have endured so many such batterings in its 400-plus year history, to shudder and tremble and now in the morning the winds have not abated and windows rattle, even upstairs floors shiver and doors swing as though the shades of past inhabitants are seeking corners to hide.
A chill rain has now started to fall from the darkened skies yet I can still hear the small hedgerow birds chirping to each other as they flutter through the hedges looking for food and shelter, blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows and finches to say nothing of the robins who all frequent the gardens and live in the thick ivy that grow smotheringly up the trees and along walls.

It is a day for the making of a hearty soup for lunch and then the baking of old-fashioned comfort food, scones & chocolate cake to be eaten with a cup of aromatic tea by a log fire. I have just put the marzipan on the Christams cakes and set them aside for a couple of days before dressing them up in their royal icing with the old family decorations.