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.

Friday, 27 May 2022

Silage has begun, Summer visitors due

The menfolk have started this year's silage harvest at last. The weather has come right and so it's all out to get the grass cut, raked and brought in. The rather elegant piece of kit in the photograph is the rake which opens out its spidery arms and then spins at great rate to bring the mown grass into rows ready for the forage wagon to gather it up to be brough to farm where it will be put into a huge concrete clamp. It is work that despite the huge and expensive machinery of modern times still involves long hard hours and the Farmer & the Sons will be at it probably well into the night and that includes having Elder Son having to stop to do the evening milking. No matter what else is going on milking has to be done twice a day and if we can get enough man-power the silage can carry on uninterupted while one member of the team has to leave to get the cows in and milked. Fortunately we have enough drivers to enable this to happen fairly seamlessly.
It is a marvellous time of year, the men love it, working with all this amazing machinery that is prepared so carefully in the weeks leading up to the first mowing as breakdowns mean loss of time & money and so all that can be is done to ensure everything runs smoothly. I spend much time making sandwiches and ensuring there is a plentiful supply of fruitcake for the Farmers's packed lunches as the daily routine falls by the wayside for these few days. Some days I may have to take food out to the fields if they are particularly far away across the valley and so picnics in the field looking across the valley are a good break. The valley looks wonderful at this time of year with the patchwork of fields visible for miles in their varied shades of green interspersed with the darker greens of the hedges and small woodlands. The wood are lovely now with the fresh green of beech leaves comong out, the clouds may-blossom looking like meringues amid the golden green of oak leaves emerging. The first of our summer visitors arrive tomorrow in the holiday cottage and with any luck this gogeous weather will hold and they will experience west Wales at its very best. I must now go and do the finishing touches to the cottage, last minute vacuuming & dusting and tomorrow I will put flowers and a plate of home-made chocolate brownies on the table in readiness for their arrival.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Maytime flowers, 'Postal Bakes' by Lucy Burton,

The flowers at this time of year are glorious, the field margins, hedge-banks and woods are overflowing with tall stately bluebells,the froth of Queen Anne's lace & vivid pink campion while at ground level there are violets, buttery celandines, sweet smiling 'daisies pied', lady's smock and gorgeous golden buttercups. While the weather is still very changeable this year and quite chilly, when the sun does shine we always say that May is just the best of months in which to see the countryside. This past weekend a party was held here for various family members to celebrate a couple of 'significant' birthdays which actually occurred back in the depths of January, so the event was postponed to when the weather was more conducive to a gathering in the gardens. We had perfect weather and so the guests, many of whom had come down from London, were able to spend the weekend sitting in a lovely garden drinking Pimms. All very civilised. It was good to see people from 'away' and to have conversations that were not predominantly about farming or the neighbours! One of the guests has just had a book published in the last week and I have no hesitation is giving it plug here. It is called 'Postal Bakes' by Lucy Burton and is a compilation of recipes for what are nowadays called 'traybakes' which can be sent to friends and family through the post. Lucy had run a business pre-pandemic baking for events and weddings but of course Covid saw that come to an abrupt halt, so she devised away of baking brownies, cakes & cookies to be sent out in the mail. It proved very successful and as result has now produced her lovely book full of decadent and scrumptious recipes (available from Waterstones, Amazon and other booksellers) and I hope it does well for her. We have had some rain in the past day or so so the grass will growing apace and hopefully the Farmer & Sons will be able to make a start on the silage soon.

Friday, 13 May 2022

Country Cats, Wild ducks, Silage

This is Rosie, one of our unofficial 'farm cats'. She is very beautiful, aloof and has good line in feline-glare, but is a useful mouser and patrols her territory seeing off intruders as we hear at night when the cat-erwauling (sorry, couldn't resist) echoes around the yards as she repels the invaders. We do have another cat on the farm, a very handsome ginger tom called Llew, (Welsh for lion) and he is my grand-daughter's familiar & is a much more people-orientated cat than Rosie. There are of course, feral cats in the valley though they are rarely seen, but they will take their chances where they can to hunt or scavenge. The hours of darkness are quite noisy at this time of year what with the owls who live close by the buildings and float out to hunt once night falls, the foxes barking in the woods and fighting, or maybe courting, cats. Occasionally this cacophony disturbs the farm dogs, though they have learned not to take too much notice. When light begins to glimmer we hear the Canada geese flying down the valley to the river and the mallard ducks start quacking down on the pond. As soon as there is clear light the little birds begin the dawn chorus with the thrushes, blackbirds and robins being most vocal followed by the soft tones of the wood-pigeons and so the outside sound-track to the day is set...with Radio 3 indoors, they do complement each other quite well. Our 'pet' mallards are doing well with Mother Duck bringing them up the house each day where they run about like little clockwork balls of fluff. Our kitchen door is stable style with the top half open in fine weather and I have to make sure the lower half of the door is firmly shut otherwise I will find the ducklings milling about my feet. They have no fear of us which is fine while they are so tiny but once they become fuly grown it can be bit of a problem as they will sit outside the door in a flock of about 12 birds and as soon as I set foot outside follow me around in a slightly menacing manner, also they do make a mess with their somewhat uncontrolled toilet habits. All that said as The Farmer says, it is quite a privilege to have what are in truth, wild birds, so relaxed with us.
On the farm all is busy preparing for first cut silage. A new silage pit is almost completed and will be ready for the first trailer loads of grass to be tipped in the next week or so. The weather is being kind to us at present with warm damp days and sunshine, with the occasional shower of rain which is very welcome after the very dry April we experienced. We all enjoy the start of the silage season, there is something very exciting about the seeing the huge tractors and their equally large attached kit setting off for the first circuit of a field of thick grass and knowing that we have embarked on the all important gathering of winter fodder.

Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Spring Ducklings, Farming Worries

To our great delight one of our female mallards arrived outside the house with her new brood of 12 ducklings. They had been spotted out on the pond the night before and we were anxious about their survival 'in the wild' but with mama duck being proud to show them off (sorry to be so anthropomorphic!) and clearly remembering from the past two years that a safe haven is to be found with people, she brought them up to our front yard and we were able to escort them all into a large pen on lovely lush grass in the orchard near the house. They are so pretty and a joy to watch as they grow over the next few weeks. Once they are big enough to fend for themselves we will put them back out on the pond,meanwhile they are safe in their netted enclosure from marauding corvids and any passing fox seeing a chance for a quick snack.
The orchards on the farm are starting their glorious display of blossom with the cherries out first closely followed by the apple treescoming in stages. Tt is a wonderful sight and uplifts everyone's spirits especially combined with the cacophany of birdsong that surrounds us at this time of year.The birds are very busy building nests in corners and crevices and calling each other from the tree tops or having squabbles over territory, the robins are particularly prone to that, while the collared doves coo seductively from the ash trees that are outside my kitchen. Many of the trees that surround the house are thick with ivy which is providing cover for the nests of finches, tree-creepers, blue-tits and thrushes.
On the farm we are coming to the end of lambing and most of the cattle are now out, yesterday having been spent loading trailers with young stock to take to the land we have across valley where they will graze for the summer on lovely fresh new grass. The dairy cows have been out for a number weeks by now and are doing well. However the milk industry is facing huge pressures at the moment and there is real risk of UK milk production dropping in the 2022/23 season due to input costs and farmers having to make major decisions on the purchasing of fertiliser and feed (although we are now coming to the time of year when cows are out grazing). Fertiliser is now £1,000 a tonne having gone up 2,000% in a year. This is due to global factors, not least the war in Ukraine. It is worrying as a number of dairy farmers are seriously considering giving up. The price paid to the farmer needs to be increased and the cost of a litre of milk in the shops will have to go up. We are living in a time of agricultural revolution and many people are talking of reducing their stock numbers and certainly cutting back on inessential expenditures. However there is much positive thinking going on and a feeling that there are going to be many opportunities for farmers to become even more innovative and adaptable than ever. After a superb display of daffodils this year they have now finished and I am enjoying my pots of tulips, not in the profusion that we had of narcissi but very pleasing nonetheless.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Springtime, Farming, Dogs

This year spring is struggling to get going somewhat in terms of the weather. We are getting a mixture of chilly days with frosts overnight and then a spell of warmer grey days with a hint of damp in the air and overcast skies but hrough it all the flowers are in their annual loop and we are enjoying the cowslips which I am endeavouring to establish in my new garden and along the hedgebanks violets are turning their faces to the sky along with the tiny wild strawberry flowers. The blackthorn is beginning to drape its veils of lacy white blossom over the hedges and we are seeing hints of green coming with the hawthorn. The birds are singing madly and loudly and seem undettered by the vagaries of the weather, the mating season is on and nothing stands in its way. We are still lambing though the end is in sight and the ewes and lambs out in the fields add their calls to the general spring cacophony. Field work is being done with a large field having been ploughed and harrowed last week and then spread with lime and sown with peas and oats for silage later in the year. As the Farmer pointed out recently, farmers have been tilling the land for millenia and he feels it is privilege to be part of that continuum no matter how difficult it is at times. The survival of the traditional family farm is the backbone of British agriculture and we will carry on despite the politicians, foody-extremists with their somewhat wacky and unrealistic agendas. For too long now politicians have taken the view that food security is not important and now with the war in Ukraine and the rising prices of fuel we cannot rely on importing the bulk of our food supplies. The consumer may have to change their eating and shopping habits and as I have said before 'Eat local, eat British' will have to become the norm rather than just a promotional slogan.
My little Jack Russell terrier, Dottie is feeling very sorry for herself after having a contretemps with our sheepdog, Judy yesterday. She is suffering for a few gashes and bruises after a squabble over a scrap of food. An unpleasant but minor incident resulting in a nasty wound that the Farmer stitched up very neatly and without Dottie making too much complaint. It is amazing how our dogs have such absolute trust in the Farmer who very calmly carefully tends to them that they will tolerate being stitched up. Dottie is ten years old and this fight has left her rather subdued but being a feisty character she will bounce back in a day or so, meanwhile she is curled up in her bed here in the kitchen