Sunday 26 December 2010

Minus 14 degrees, No Water, No Rayburn & Festive Lunch To Cook - Merry Christmas!

Boxing Day.
Well, Christmas Day dawned at -14 degrees C. and we were greeted with almost our entire water supply frozen solid and the Rayburn in the kitchen having gone out.
We did have water here in the house but only cold and the milking parlour, dairy & cattle shed were without water as were Elder Son's cottage and the holiday cottage (fortunately empty at present).
The Farmer set to and performed major surgery on the Rayburn threee times before it was going again and and outside the boys struggled to thaw pipes and troughs.
Trying to cook Chrismas lunch in a cold kitchen with the internal parts of the Rayburn scattered across the floor and reeking of household oil & men-folk tramping in & out for kettles of  hot water is certainly challenging.
I do have a gas cooker as well as the Rayburn but having intended  to use both as per usual and then finding that it was not to be, I ended up trotting across to Elder Son's cottage and asking KT to cook the roasting vegetables in her oven while I battled on with the gas cooker. The Turkey of course, took up sole residency in the one oven left to me, the Christmas pudding steamed away to itself on the top and I juggled with saucepans on the remaining three gas burners, making bread sauce, red-currant sauce (an excellent substitute, having been unable to find the cranberries in the deep-freeze), gravy, boiling potatoes, steaming vegetables & boiling kettles for thawing out procedures outside. It was a miracle that lunch was only an hour late!!!

Today it is a little less cold but there is still a battle to get water to the livestock and for tractors to start. Elder Son has gone to a neighbour to help feed his stock as none of his tractors will start.
The Farmer has spent the morning filling tankers with water from under the ice on the ponds as there is no other way of getting water to the cattle troughs. It is a constant struggle to keep one jump ahead of the freezing conditions. The streams & rivers have iced over and as soon as any water is exposed to the air it freezes around the pipes & taps. Still, as the Farmer says it is not as bad as 1601...the Thames has not yet frozen solid!

Friday 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas One & All...Nadolig Llawen

Christmas Eve and what a busy day ahead. The most important thing to be done today is the Christmas tree...its something of a family tradition that the tree comes into the house on Christmas Eve and is taken out again on Twelfth Night. I love decorating the tree and re-discovering all the old and precious ornaments, some of them dating back to the childhood of the Farmer's grandmother at the end of the 19th century, and of course the newer ones from the childhoods of our boys. Father Christmas always brought them a tree decoration  and so we have quite a large collection of pretty things.

As well decorating  the tree I have to ice the Christmas cake which I try to get done while listening to the Nine Lessons & Carols from Kings College, tho' almost inevitably it is interupted by various things cropping up. There is the stuffing for the turkey and trifles to be made and last minute wrapping of presents to done. I know that a number of people are due to call here today so there will be constant supply of hot fresh coffee to on the go and mince pies.

With the cold weather everything outside is very difficult. Each morning all the water pipes & troughs for the livestock are having to be thawed out which takes a long time. A neighbour has just rung to say that they have no water at all and could the Farmer go down to help sort it out (which of course he will, but after he's dealt with the problems here).

The ponds are frozen with a cap of ice about 6"-8" thick and the dogs run around on the ice skidding & sliding with joy. Each day we have the wonderful sight of laughing labradors leaping about in the snow.

Wishing Everyone A Very Merry Christmas

Nadolig Llawen

Sunday 19 December 2010

'The Weather Outside is Frightful.....', Emergency Milk Tanks, Favourite Christmas Reading

Early morning across our snow-bound valley...pretty spectaucular, eh what!
We are indeed snow-bound...the Farmer decided to walk to the shoot yesterday morning across the fields having taken the 4x4 out to end of of our lane and having seen the state of the main road with lorries slewed at odd angle across it and foolish car drivers struggling to get up the hill, it seemed the only sensible thing to do. I had walked out with the dogs to exercise them before going beating and was then left to drive the car back up the lane (in low box) and the only time I slid (even in 4 wheel drive) was turning in to park on the yard.
The main concern today is getting a load of cattle cake delivered which we have been waiting for since Thursday. It has to come up from the West Country but we've had a message to say it is in Wales  and so should get to us sometime, however, whether the lorry will get up the lane is the big question. If it can't do it then it will be a matter of shovelling 4 tonnes of cake into bags and bringing it up with tractors! What a joyful prospect!
The milk tanker came on Friday night okay but tonight will be another matter. We have though been told by our milk buying company that unlike last winter, we can use a portable emergency milk tank and take it out ourselves with a tractor to end of the road. All dairy farms used to have these emergency tanks and they were invaluable, then it was decided by the powers that be that they were unhygienic and dangerous for the lorry drivers to empty being up on trailers so their use was banned. Last winter when so many farms could not have their milk collected much milk was lost but this time common sense has prevailed and the old tank can be brought out of mothballs. It will of course be thoroughly cleaned and sterilised and our particular tanker driver has assured the Farmer that he will collect our milk from the end of the road if we can get it there.

It is very, very cold here today and the snow is crunching underfoot and the skies are grey and full, I think we are supposed to have more snow tomorrow which may put paid to the half-plan of meeting family members in Llandeilo to hand over turkeys & pressies. We will see.

This is the first Christmas in almost 20 years that I have not got the cottage booked out. I think the weather has made people think twice about venturing too far from home over the festive season, however, that said I have got people arriving for New Year...if they can get here that is.

It is a day for sitting by the fire reading some favourite Christmassy, snowy books, having been busy cooking and baking for the last few days, so this afternoon I shall settle down witth 'Wind in the Willows', 'The Children of Green Knowe', 'Lanterns Across the Snow' by Susan Hill & The Faber Book of Christmas. That is the plan but I may well be asked, in the nicest posssible way, to go out and shovel cattle cake!!

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Winter Work, Good Books, Rampant Rams

Even a fence post & barbed wire can look beautiful with a coating of hoar frost!

Despite the run up to Christmas beginning to gather pace, things are quite quiet here, though busy, but its a routine sort of busy-ness. Elder Son is off hedge-trimming while he can get onto the land with frozen fields, Younger Son is off each morning working on a tree-felling job & the Farmer is also working with chain-saws today thinning out out a conifer plantation on the farm. Again, while the fields are frozen and hard, work with tractors & winches becomes posssible that is normally only done in the summer.
So while all the men-folk are off being manly I keep warm in the house with cooking, ironing, Christmas preparations & grabbing the odd moment to read some very good books.

K.T. has just lent me 'The Winter Ghosts' by Kate Mosse...wonderful! A clever & poignant ghost story linking the distress of the grief & guilt of the 1914-18 War with the horrors of the torment of the Cathars in France in the 14th century. It is not a long book but totally gripping.
As bit of light relief I have also been reading a couple of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries by Carola Dunn. Good whodunnits set in the '20's with a delightfully nosy society flapper and a solidly attractive Inspector from the Met. as their leading characters in a series of good old-fashioned murder mysteries. Good stuff on cold winter evenings by the fire.
For even lighter relief 'Chocolate and Cuckoo Clocks; The Essential Alan Coren' has been unbeatable. It is laugh-out-loud stuff and so clever and off the wall. I loved hearing Alan Coren on the radio but as we rarely buy national ( or local for that matter!) newspapers I did not see his regular column in The Times, but have now discovered what we missed. Glorious eccentricity.

We had a small & fortunately short-lived, unpleasantness yesterday when our two rams were brought into the yard to remove them from the flock of ewes, who are now hopefully all in lamb. The rams who have been happily living together in the main flock since October, once separated from their harem decided to kill each other! They have incredibly hard skulls and just run at each other with their heads lowered and inflict an astonishing amount of damage. They were quickly separated & removed to other parts of the yard but an amount of blood had been spilled. They now just roar at each other balefully from behind their respective fences. Murderous sheep...the power of instinct and the survival of the fittest & all that stuff!

Sunday 12 December 2010

Thaw & More Frost, Free-range Turkeys

After two days of thaw we have silvered roofs & fields again with another frost having come overnight. However,we no longer have the glassy sheets of ice outside the house & across the yards that we have had to negotiate so gingerly for the past week, which is great relief. The Farmer fell twice but without any damage and vehicles were having difficulties getting in or out as our steep driveway had some bad patches of black ice. The milk tanker driver was very pleased when Elder Son had put a goodly quantity of grit on the drive so he was able to collect the milk without too much trouble.

We have been rearing our usual small number of turkeys for Christmas and they spend their short but happy lives roaming around the yards & buildings. They had found their way up to the children's old climbing frame the other day where there was a patch of warm sunshine and sat there for a long while gobbling gently to each other before heading back to their more usual haunts down on the yard. They are truly free-range and as a result of the freedom they have they taste wonderful... or should it be wanderful!
They are such ugly creatures I find, with their naked vulture-like heads & necks & strange swivelling eyes. The cock birds are spectacularly hideous with their blue wattles and aggressive fanning out of feathers when alarmed and the way they seem to hiss & spit is very intimidating. We have a friend with a couple of pet turkeys and I find them quite scary!

Sunday 5 December 2010

Rainbows & Ice,Peacocks, Homemade Mincemeat, Local Arts,

This morning we are having such peculiar weather...this wonderful rainbow appeared arching across the farm in extraordinarily strong colour and I was walking across fields white & crisp with frost in a fine drizzle. There are still sheets of ice everywhere and icicles hanging in the streams. We have not had the excitement of snow sadly, just treacherous ice and deep cold. Yesterday the yards were like sheets of glass and this morning the Farmer was to take our cattle trailer to help a neighbour move house but the car dooors were frozen solid so instead of going at 9 o'clock it has been postponed until later this morning when things have 'warmed' up a bit and he can get into the car!
From this same neighbour the Farmer has acquired a pair of peacocks, which he brought home yesterday in a cage . They are called Charlie & Hettie and because peacocks apparently have a strong sense of home they are to be kept under high security for 3 months to reduce the risk of them them making a break for it and heading back across the valley & also to keep them safe from Mr Fox. The Farmer has always wanted peacocks and he will win them over by hand feeding them, hopefully. I'm not sure how we are going to cope with haunting scream that peacocks make...people have told us that it can be fairly persistent and therefore intensely annoying.
'Who said, 'Peacock Pie'?
The old King to the sparrow:'
(Walter de la Mare; The Song of the Mad Prince)

Yesterday which was horrid, very cold & damp, I spent making & bottling a large quantity of mincemeat that I had set on the go the day before, and baking while the Farmer & Younger Son were off beating with the dogs. Making mincemeat is one of the Christmas preparations that I really enjoy and I make enough of it to see me through the year not just the festive season. it is very useful stuff, not just for mincemeat pies, but it it makes a lovely pudding with sponge on top and a good spoonful in a cake mixture makes a good moist fruit cake.

 Homemade Mincemeat
4lbs. apples cored but not peeled, chopped small
8oz. suet
2lbs. mixed dried fruit & candied peel
12 oz. dark brown sugar
Grated zest & juice of 2 lemons & 2 oranges
4 tspns. mixed spice
1/2 tspn. ground cinnamon
A little ground cloves
A little grated nutmeg
6 tblspns. brandy
(I double everything & sometimes add a couple of tblspns. of ground almonds)
Mix everything together well except the brandy,in a large bowl and leave overnight covered with a clean cloth.
The next day cover the bowl loosely with tin foil and put in oven for 3 hours
 (Gas 1/4, 225 degrees F, 120 degrees C or the bottom oven of the Rayburn).
When it is taken from the oven the suet will have melted and the whole thing will be swimming in fat... this is how it should be.
As it cools stir occasionally.
When quite cold add the brandy & pack into clean jars, cover with wax discs seal.
It will keep indefinitely in cool dark place

We are always interested in local artists & craftspeople and try to support them when we can afford to (!) and recently a friend has set up a new online business selling work by graduate students from the local art college where she lectures. The original designer pieces produced are wonderful and S. is keen that the young artists should be given a shop window for their talents. Look at and see what remarkable and lovely things are being made here in Carmarthenshire.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Snowy Roads, Frozen Water Supply

This was the start of our journey to Dorset on Friday! Having driven to Lampeter for dental appointments, with no sign of snow or bad weather until we were nearly at the town, we encountered a full blown snow storm. After leaving the dentist an hour later we decided to continue to Brecon through the snow and were in small queue of traffic all the way travelling at a steady 12 miles per hour... we must have been mad, but we have never been caught by snow when off the farm before and were all set for three days away, so we risked it. In fact there was very little risk involved & if need be we could have stayed in Brecon with family if necessary, but it it not come to that.
 It was lovely driving across countrry as we could see the countryside tranforming itself before our very eyes and everyone was driving very sensibly, though we were glad of our 4x4! Once we got to the A40 the road conditions were a little better and by the time we reached Brecon there was very liitle snow just heavy frost. From Brecon onwards we encountered almost no snow and the further south we went the better it got though it was terribly cold.
Once we reached the New Forest there was just a light sprinkling of frost though the temperature was very low. Three days spent with my sister & her family passed very pleasantly with long walks on bittterly cold beaches and lovely meals in warm places and the Farmer & I set off to return to Wales yesterday. We saw snow on the Cotswolds but really there was just heavy frosts in most places and when we reached Carmarthenshire there was light snow on the higher ground.
The farm is in the grip of freezing ice & the boys have been thawing water pipes & troughs & the water supply to house froze, but everything is now under control...we just have to keep warm, so fires are lit early in the day and we have donned long-johns, vests, several top layers & sheepskin boots. Whether we will get any more snow here is not known, the couple of weather websites I look at tell me different things so we shall just have to wait & see what happens.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Super-Dairy Controversy,

A cold & frosty morning with the roofs glittering  in the sunshine and the the dogs bouncing with joy in the clear air.

There has been a lot of media coverage lately on the controversial 'super dairy' planning application submitted by a group of dairy farmers in Lincolnshire. Having cut their proposed cow numbers from just over 8000 cows to 3770 they feel they may have a better chance of gaining their planning permission. However, they have said that once they get planning for the lower number and the unit is up & running they will return to their original proposal. (See Farmer's Weekly, 18th November).
There are many large & very efficient dairy farms already in the country some milking over 2000 cows and they have high standards of animal welfare, but I am not convinced this is the way forward. As small producers (and we are very small!) we can produce good quality milk with high standards of animal welfare and a smaller carbon footprint than the much larger dairy farms. (For the Five Freedoms for animal welfare see  The ideal herd size is probably about 100-150 cows which enables the cows to live in  more natural social order and to graze in fields. Thousands of cows cannot be put out to graze, therefore all their feed must be transported by convoys of lorries & tractors increasing the traffic on the surrounding roads. Ultimately it will prove to be unsustainable. The cheapest way to feed cows is to let them graze grass.
Without getting too fluffy about it all, the consumer would rather buy milk from cows that have been grazing grass in the open air than from cows kept in sheds, no matter how comfortable, clean & well fed they are. I understand that some of the major supermarkets have said they will not buy milk from a 'super dairy'.

Friday 19 November 2010

Colostrum, Local Cheese Makers & Home-grown Foods

After several days of torrential rain it is now dry and sunny though the mess left by the volume of water running everywhere is awful...but it is as nothing compared with those poor people in Cornwall!
 The drainage work done earlier in the year seems to be working and we no longer have water running through the cattle sheds, thank goodness and the cattle are warm & dry.

We had a heifer calf born yesterday to a cow with very little milk, so the Farmer has had to spend time feeding it with colostrum (the first milk produced after calving which is vital to the survival of the calf) with a bottle. We always keep a supply of colostrum in the freezer in case of situations like this. After thawing the colostrum is heated gently before being fed to calf; it has to be allowed to thaw naturally or in a bath of warm water, not in the micro-wave oven as whatever happens to it with micro-waves destroys its nutritional value & curdles it.

Talking of curdled milk, we have a number of very succesful cheesemakers here in the Teifi Valley and they have recently joined forces to draw attention to their excellent award winning products. We buy their cheeses regularly and always recommend them to visitors. The Teifi Valley Cheese Producers have a new website, which gives all the background information on the various makers and the very different cheeses they produce.The one we particularly enjoy is made by Caws Cenarth (caws is Welsh for cheese) and is a Brie type called Perl Wen. They also produce a wonderful soft blue cheese, Perl Las. We gave some Perl Wen to some French friends who were very impressed saying it was better than Brie!!!
One of the best meals we can put on the table consists of entirely home-grown or locally produced food, Mair's Bakehouse bread, Caws Cenarth cheese, home-made tomato chutney, soup made with home-grown leeks, potatoes & stock from our own animals & home-brewed cider...what could be better?,

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Milk Tanker Driver Retires,

Another sparkling frosty morning with the sun gleaming through the trees as I walked the dogs across the top fields and back along the drive. Lovely.

When Elder Son & the Farmer went down to the dairy this morning they found a card from our long-standing milk-tanker driver informing us that he was retiring and that as  'working a night collection doesn't give me the chance to meet my farmers, I should like to say 'Thank you' for your support & cooperation over the years'. We were rather touched that he should have written cards to 'his' farmers wishing us all farewell. Dilwyn has always been one of the best drivers, coming in carefully & quietly onto the yard and in the terrible weather last January he never missed a collection from us (see blog postings January 2010) despite the difficulties of getting here. I hope he has a long & happy retirement starting next week.

Yesterday the Farmer & Elder Son spent the day hedge-laying. It is a very old hedge running down the side of the steep lane that was once the only access to the farm and has needed attending to for some time. It is now looking very neat if rather sparse having had so much trash removed, but come the spring it will recover & thicken out once more. Meanwhile there is a huge mass of trimmings in the field waiting for the right conditions for a bonfire.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Weaning Calves, Moving Cattle, Mud & Good Shoes

On Thursday the Farmer brought all our Traditional Hereford cattle into the yard to wean the calves as their mothers are due to calve in January so need time without the previous generation. Weaning of cattle is always a a noisy business with calves bellowing for their mothers & the mothers bellowing back at them so, harsh as it may seem we have to take the mothers as far away from the young ones as possible. This involves walking them through several fields to a outlying pasture well away from the main part of the farm. Once the cows are in their new grazing they settle down quite quickly, but the calves who are being kept near the farm buildings & the house continue to call for quite along while, especially throught the night which disturbs us all.

The same day it was decided to move a flock of sheep and number of dry cows onto some new grazing and this involved the Farmer, Younger Son & myself & Molly the sheepdog (also two labradors who are completely useless for moving any kind of livestock other than pheasants!).
The animals took a lot of persuading to go where we wanted them and it got to the stage where I wasn't sure whether the Farmer was whistling & shouting instructions to me or Molly...but she is quicker to run round the back of  a flock of sheep than me, I can't force animals to move just by glaring at them & I certainly won't drop to my tummy on wet grass when being told to 'Lie down!' or 'Stay'!

Last night the Farmer & I met up with some friends for a meal at a recently opened restaurant, near Aberporth, Yr Hen Ysgol, The Old Schoolhouse Steakhouse where we had one of the best meals in years. Beautifully cooked food, generous helpings & excellent service in a very pleasant former schoolroom that had been converted into a stylish & comfortable restaurant.
The main problem I have with going out for the evening especially in winter, is footwear. Having got myself into 'tidy' clothes with nice shoes I then have to pick my way by torch-light, across to the car without gathering too much mud on the said nice shoes. Of course I could just wear wellies and change in the car but that is too obvious a solution, though I suppose I could have 'going-out wellies' which would cut out the need for good can get such pretty wellies nowadays...but the car is also our farm vehicle and has its own accumulation of mud and grunge, so its a no win situation really.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

General Busy-ness, Green Tomato Chutney

We woke to frost this morning and walking the dogs was lovely in the sparkling sunshine, however it is now clouding over and seems to be turning into a dull grey day.
The Farmer & Younger Son have gone off with large tractors & serious logging equipment to process a neighbour's mountain of firewood ( & Elder Son has departed on his tractor for a days hedge-trimming on a nearby farm, so I have a day all to myself.
I've already dealt with emails and cottage booking requests, ironed bedlinen & made up  the beds in the holiday cottage for guests arriving on Friday and  I shall make a batch of green tomato chutney (see below) later this morning and then continue with various sewing projects that need to be finished before I get completely fed-up them. What a busy little bee I am!

I was amazed to find some daffodil shoots appearing in the pots in the garden this week. I hope they don't get burned off by some fearsome icy blasts later on. Talking with a friend yesterday we commented on how few sloes there are this year...last year the crop was wonderful & large quantities of sloe gin were made but this year there will none. The holly berries are bright & plentiful; its pity there is no use for them, other than feeding the birds, of course, and there are many rose hips gleaming in the hedges. It has been a good season for fungi, but we are just not knowledgeable enough to harvest them.

Green Tomato Chutney
4lbs green tomatoes
1lb apples
1/2 stoned or stoneless raisins
1lb brown sugar
11/4lb shallots (I've used leeks & onions)
8-10 chillies
1/2oz dried whole ginger
1 pint vinegar

Cut up all the tomatoes, peel & chop the apples & shallots.
Bruise the ginger & chillies & tie in muslin bag.
Place all the ingredients in a preserving pan, bring to the boil and simmer until the chutney has the desired consistency.
Remove the bag of spices and bottle the chutney,
Yield about 71/4lb.

This recipe comes from a marvellous book that is my preserving bible, Home Preservation of Fruit & Vegetables, Bulletin 21 produced by the now defunct Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food. Old copies might be found on Ebay or

Sunday 7 November 2010

Back Online, OMSCo, Birds in Autumn Landscape

After nearly a week of appalling phone connections & almost no internet we now seem to be linked to the outside world again...touch wood, fingers crossed etc. The telephone engineer came out and twiddled with various little bits of wire and certainly the phone line was much clearer, but I think the problem arises when it rains, which as we are in saturated West Wales may prove an ongoing difficulty. However, this morning it is glorious after a night of torrential downpours so the technology is working far.

Yesterday the Farmer, Younger Son & two very excited labradors went off to spend the day beating. They had a lovely time and came home mid-afternoon with a brace of pheasants. Apparently the dogs behaved beautifully and worked very well prompting some flattering comments from the other beaters & the guns.

During the week the Farmer & I attended a meeeting with OMSCo ( for a update on how the organic milk market is doing. UK sales of organic milk are still too low & much of the milk is still being exported to the continent, though ironically, it is then coming back into the UK as milk powder. It is all quite mad.

Autumn is well under way and temperatures do seem to be dropping a little. It has been so mild lately and of course, very wet. From the office window I have been watching blackbirds feeding on the great crop of cotoneaaster berries and there are many blue tits & sparrows around and there are odd glimpses of wrens.
There have been murmurations (such a wonderful collective noun) of starlings flighting their dramatic sweeps across the skies to land in the fields and this morning a buzzard took off over my head as I was out with the dogs, only to be mobbed by a couple of aggressive crows. Everywhere I walk now apart from being very squelchy, is covered by a carpet of fallen rusten leaves which unfortunatley are too soggy to be kicked through making that wonderful autumnal rustle and sigh.

Saturday 30 October 2010

Twin Calves, Work Experience Student, Christmas Cakes & Puddings.

This week we had a pair of twin calves born. Fortunately they were both bull calves and will be reared for beef. It is always a disappointment if twins are born and they are of both genders. About 80% of the female calves of a mixed set of twins are infertile and are known as freemartins. To have had a pair of bull calves is good.

Over the past week Elder Son has had help with the morning milkings from M. the 16yr. old daughter of some friends, who is hoping to become a vet. She needed to gain some experience with dairy cows having already done some work experience with our local vet's practice seeing general farm work. She was delivered to the farm each morning at 6 o'clock, thanks to her very obliging mother(!) and joined E.S. in the parlour and then helped with the routine work with the cattle during the morning. She seemed to get on very well and E.S. was very encouraging and pleased with her enthusiam and interest. I hope she enjoyed her time here and felt it had been worthwhile.

We are having a day of torrential downpours interspersed with brief glimpses of watery sunshine. The Farmer has retreated to his workshop to make a batch of tuning handles for our local Welsh harp makers and I have prepared the start of the Christmas cake mixture, in my lovely warm kitchen. I have always made the Christmas cakes & puddings during October half-term but the boys feel they are much too grown-up to come and stir the mixtures and a make a wish nowadays!

Friday 29 October 2010

Llanerchaeron Apple Week & Cyw on S4C, Dog Memorials

Yesterday the Farmer & I went up to Llanechaeron, the National Trust House near Aberaeron, to take part in the filming of a children's television programme for S4C. The programme, Cyw, has a character called Rapsgaliwn, who goes around showing various processes & methods covering a large variety of subjects. Yesterday it was how apples are made into juice.
We arrived at Llanerchaeron with all the apple pulping & juicing equipment which we set up in one of the glasshouses near the lovely orchards and the Farmer duly made apple juice and the process was filmed with Rapsgaliwn explaining to his two child co-presenters what was going on. The programme will be going out sometime in February.

It has been Apple Week at Llanechaeron and there was the most wonderful display of of over 40 varieties of apples, all grown in the gardens on the estate, including a number of old Welsh varieties.. Many of them were very old, some dating back to the 17th century such as Catshead (1600's) & Devonshire Quarrenden (1676). They have such lovely names, Orleans Reinette (1776), Cambusnethean Pippin (1750) & Roemary Russett (1831) and the variations in colour, shape and uses is amazing. The smell as one walked into the Apple Room was overpowering and just delicious.

Whilst the Farmer was occupied with the film crew, I went for a wander around the gardens and found the huge lake in the woods that has been reinstated only in the last three years or so. It was looking glorious with vast beech trees all in golden livery and a flotilla of mallards dotted about on the water patrolling their territory around the two islands. There is a also a well established heronry on the islands.
As I walked along the path around the lake I came across a small headstone tucked into the side of the path under a large beech tree.
it had inscribed uopn it the following;
26, June 1919
Aged 13 years
Vic must have been a much loved & faithful dog, a companion to one of the Ponsonby-Lewes's  of the time.
I had half expected to find other dog memorials but Vic was clearly the only one that merited such a remembrance.
We have a large standing stone here at Penyrallt, known as the Dog Stone which marks the grave of one of our dear sheepdogs, Ted and is a memorial to all our many dogs over the years, though it does not have their names carved on it...if any of us had the necessary skills it would have an impressive list carved uopn it. It is surprising how many dogs one family can have over a quarter of a century.

Monday 25 October 2010

First Frost, Unexpected Returning Traveller, Holiday Cottage in Winter.

This morning we woke to the first real frost and even with the glorious sunshine it is lingering. It seems very early in the season to have such a hard frost. The leaves on the trees are falling now and everywhere one goes around the farm there is a constant faint sussurationof dry leaves landing on the ground. In some places around the farm one can stand in clump of trees and be surrounded by a snow of falling leaves.

The last few days have been much taken up with Younger Son's travel plans and their going awry.
On Friday he left for New Zealand and yesterday (Sunday) he arrived back home having got as far as Shanghai! In Shanghai a problem was picked up regarding his visa and the New Zealand authorities would not allow him to travel any further, so the Chinese authorities put him on a plane to Hong Kong where he spent a night in a hotel and then flew back to Heathrow.
It was very strange & unnerving experience for him, being surrounded by Chinese airport officials and watching  the two friends he was travelling with get on the plane to Christchurch. They of course, had no idea why he was not with them and spent the rest of their journey wondering what on earth can have happened. All very scary and bizarre. However, it is all sorted out now, thank goodness.
So YS is now home for the winter, his first in 3 years! He has had 6 summers in a row, so a Welsh winter is going to be bit of a shock! He has not experienced real cold for such along time, but it does mean he will be able to go out with his dog on the shoots, an activity that he has missed.

It is half-term week now and I have guests in the holiday cottage and several more to come over the next few weeks. We have have had a very good year with the cottage and lots of delightful people enjoying & discovering West Wales. Bookings are already coming for 2011 which is great, including faithful returnees.
we are finding that winter breaks are becoming more popular. After all, what could be better than seeing gorgeous countryside in autumn colours & sparkling frost and then relaxing by a roaring log fire?!

Saturday 23 October 2010

Last Rose of Summer, First Shoot of Winter

Although it nearly the end of October & the weather has become distinctly cooler we still have a few late roses around the garden. These paticular flowers are on an old 'American Pillar' that was transplanted earlier in the year and has done very well at the foot of a large ash tree & has flowered consistently since the beginning of the summer.

Yesterday the Farmer & I took Younger Son up to Ludlow on the first stage of his return trip to New Zealand. The father of his friend J. with whom he was travelling was to take the boys on up to Heathrow. This is the 4th time that they have gone out to NZ and are now very casual & blase about the whole thing, though the 27 hour flight is still gruelling despite going Premium Economy (they say it is worth every extra penny for the extra leg room, both being 6'4", and decent food!) rather than 'cattle class'.

It is of course summer in New Zealand now, while here we are definitely getting colder and today it is absolutely chucking down with rain. The Farmer went off this morning with YS's gun dog Poppy for the first shoot of the season. They will be tired, drenched and cold but happy, when they get home having spent the day beating through thickets of brambles in the woods.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Returning to New Zealand, Apple Juicing, Winter Arrives

Yesterday we bade farewell to our Kiwi visitor. She has been with us for 4 months and had really become part of the family. We were all very sad to see her go & I think she was sorry to leave us. She has had a marvellous different to life in Timaru & no earthquakes to worry about.
Apparently this last week or so there has been another large tremor in Christchurch and also in the areas south of the city. The Kiwi said her parent's house has shifted & doors no longer open easily and everything has dropped of the walls. Since the first big earthquake in Christchurch over a month ago there have been well over 1200 (!) minor quakes monitored, but the latest ones are getting stronger it seems. Christchurch airport was closed at the beginning of the week, so we hope that S. will be able to get home without too much difficulty.

On Tuesday, a number of members of the local Transition Group came to the farm with their crops of apples to be juiced.
The Farmer has been juicing most of our apple crop with a very efficient pulping machine and juicer. He bottles the juice in small plastic milk bottles and then freezes them. Ideally we would like to pasteurise the juice which would then save on the expense of having to run freezers, although at present we are able to store the apple juice in freezers that also contain meat.
The bringers of apples certainly brought plenty of fruit & of several
different varieties. The variation of flavours was very interesting. Our   own apples produce quite a sharp but pleasant juice, though unfortunately we don't know what the varieties are, just that they are very old trees, probably a good 100 years or more in age.

Tomorrow we take Younger Son up to Ludlow to meet his friend J. with whom he is travelling back to New Zealand for a 4th stint working on Canterbury Plain. J.'s father will drive the boys to Heathrow. This year they will both be working for the same agricultural contractor and no doubt will have a good time driving huge machinery for long hours earning lots of money through a hot NZ summer again. I hope the earthquakes do not cause problems.

With YS & the Kiwi returning to New Zealand for the summer, winter is beginning to creep into our lives in Wales; we had  the first frost this week, very light but frost nonetheless and the leaves are coming off the trees and forming drifts of copper & gold in every corner of the yard and around the house. I've started my regular replenishments of the log supply in the porch as I'm lighting fires every afternoon wheelbarrow & I have a very deep & meaningful relationship!
The swallows left duruing the week the Farmer & I were away...there was one family still flying around the buildings when we left presumably waiting until their last brood was grown & ready for their long journey to Africa. They probably had reared three broods over the summer. We seemed to have had many more swallows this year for some unknown reason. Let's hope that most if not all manage to return next April.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Vale of Clettwr Hunt Meet, 'Mycelium Running' by P. Stamets, Organic Milk Rap from Yeo Valley Organics

Yesterday morning Younger Son, the Kiwi & I went out to the meet of our local hunt, the Vale of Clettwr, at a pub up the road. The Kiwi has of course, never seen anything like it before and it is a wonderful sight with the Master & the huntsmen in their pink coats and the horses and riders all spruced up and and ready to go. One of our neighbours was there with his little grand-daughter ( see picture) on the smallest pony I've ever seen. She was so excited to be there. There was field of about 20 riders and maybe 20-30 couple of hounds.
As the meet was so close to Penyrallt they came over our land by lunch time and our dogs who were all tied up, were very frustrated by seeing the hounds come through the yard closely followed by the horses. A couple of the hounds lingered around and had to be collected later in the day. Hounds are great...fairly brainless but very sweet natured. In the past I have walked hound & beagle puppies for the local packs and they are great fun.

Yesterday was a glorious sunny warm autumnal day, today it is grey & overcast. It has been a very good season for fungi. We have found  fly agarics the size of dinner plates, and there have been ink caps coming up on the lawns and magnificent tiers of bracket fungi appearing on tree stumps. While the Farmer & I were in Shropshire we found an extraordinary range of fungi when walking, which we were not knowledgeable enough to identify.
The Farmer has been reading an fascinating book called 'Mycelium Running' by Paul Stamets.Its sub-title is 'How Mushrooms can Save the World' and its 'a manual for the mycological rescue of the planet'. Basically it explains  that the mycelium recycle carbon, nitrogen,& other essential elements as they break down the plant & animal debris, thus creating new soil. It has also been discovered that mycelium can digest & decompose toxic wastes & pollutants. The importance of mushrooms in the great scheme of things is clearly explained & quite amazing.

How many of you have seen the new Yeo Valley Organics TV advert? Isn't it great?! Even the Farmer who is normally very snide about most advertising campaigns thought it was good fun, so it must have something!! As our milk goes to Yeo Valley we take a keen interest in what they do, especially if it helps spread  the message about the benefits of organic milk & if that message can be put across in such a fun way then its even better.

Monday 11 October 2010

Powis Castle, Wroxeter and other Salopian Glories.

'Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.'
The Farmer & I have returned from our holiday in Shropshire which was both cultural & relaxing. As well as doing an enormous amount of reading, we had an excellent time visiting the wondrous gardens at Powis Castle, the extraordinary Roman ruins at Wroxeter and delicious bookshops, antique shops & galleries in Ludlow, Bishop's Castle & Much Wenlock.
Powis Castle was just beautiful and the gardens are to die for...we both now hanker after 400year old yew hedges that reach about 30ft in height. (We have the space so maybe we should plant them for our great, great, great grand-children.) The yews were magnificent and the other lovely thing there was the orchards of apple & pear trees set about beautifully clipped lawns and the woods with an amazing selection of shrubs growing in amongst the trees...hydrangeas look superb in such a setting. 
We stayed in a very comfortable cottage near Churchstoke and were  close to a hillfort that sat high above the village on a rocky outcrop. We climbed up there one late afternoon and it was worth the very steep scramble. The views across the Marches were stupendous.
The Roman ruins at Wroxeter, or Virconium, were fascinating and somewhat bizarre. The ruins are vast and are all that remains of a municipal bath-house that was in the centre of a small township. The Romans I find strange anyway, and their need to build these huge baths on the edge of the empire, in what was a very isolated outpost & settlement  is just weird.
We also visted the Acton Scott Farm Museum which was lovely. It is a breathtaking sight to walk into old stables and see each stall containing a magnificent Shire horse gleaming & brushed & ready for work. The stables here at Penyrallt must have been much the same a 100 years ago. Sadly, all that remains now are the cobbled floors and the backs of the stalls where the hay troughs had been.
The Farmer had a lovely nostalgic time at Acton Scott looking at all the old machinery and remembering his father talking about how they worked and quizzing the staff on various technicalities.

Having been home now for a couple of days life is back to normal, with the Sons both still working on silage carting for neighbours and selling some beef cattle. They had routine TB testing of the cattle last week while we were away, and everything is clear, hence being able to sell some stock today.
The weather is gorgeous so we got a lot of work done in the gardens yesterday (while dreaming of Powis).
A neighbour has given us a quantity of large shrubs that he has removed from his own garden, so we spent a long time deciding how to place them to best effect and planning the next stage of landscaping for next spring.

Thursday 30 September 2010

Close Encounters of a Bovine Kind

This picture shows children from a local primary school having a close encounter with one of our cows which they found quite thrilling. This particular cow has been rather a pet of the Elder Son and so is quite happy to be near people. The children ( & the teachers) loved it, of course.
This school visit has been planned for weeks but had been cancelled at the last minute last week because of the weather. Today we were so lucky...the rain held off until children were leaving on the bus.

As well as entertaining 40 plus children today, there was the worry of a cow which had collapsed in the parlour today. She had a trapped nerve after calving and one leg just gave way during milking. She fell in a most inconvenient corner of the milking-parlour and it took 5 of us an hour to get her out and into a field. We had to use pulleys and straps and various contraptions to get her moved and all without injuring her in any way. Howver, after much pulling and shoving we managed to get the poor thing out of the parlour and she is now out in a field recovering and with her calf. She will be fine.

The Famer's Godson & girl-friend left on Monday after a jolly camping in the orchard. They seemed to have good time going to visit  the CAT at Machynlleth and various interesting people & places round about. It was lovely to have them here and I'm sure they will be back.
Younger Son & the Kiwi returned on Monday evening after their trip to North Wales which extended into a quick run up to Ayrshire! It was a varied trip around Britain, visiting York, Hadrian's Wall, Biggar and Cumbria...a very full six days!!! The Kiwi has certainly seen chunks of the UK that she did not know existed!

 I have been busy these last three days getting  my re-decoration of the holiday cottage finished, which as usual turned into a bigger job then originally planned, but it is all looking rather good. The sense of urgency is due to the fact that I have guests arriving on Sunday & the Farmer & I are going away for a week, leaving on Saturday. Yes, we are giving ourselves a well earned week away from the phone, the computer & the farm. But the cottage needed sprucing up after a very busy summer...its amazing how shabby it can get & a quick (!) coat of paint just brightens everything up.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Autumn Approaches, Bottling Fruit & Cider Making, New Home for Last Puppy,

Whilst the countryside is still looking green & leafy, autumn is definitely on its way. Drifts of crisp brown leaves are already beginning to gather along the drive falling from the beech trees, the squirrels have attacked the hazel nuts and left the shells lying empty with their green frilly ruffs beneath the hedges and the blackberries are glowing in the hedgerows. There is a definite chill in the evenings now & that subtle & indefinable scent of autumn on the air.
Whilst out with the dogs yesterday there was a fine equninoxal wind blustering around the treetops and a couple of rooks were floating around in the sky and being tossed about now & then by a surprise current of air making them look like flapping black hankerchiefs.

The Farmer gathered a great quantity of elderberries yesterday for wine making and I picked some blackberries for freezing. We've already had many meals with bramble & apple crumbles and so now I'm saving some for the winter. We have bottled apples, tomatoes and made tomato & basil sauce which, as an experiment we have also bottled in Kilner jars. I can't think of any reason why it should not be as good a way of preserving the sauce as any other.

After the great apple juicing sessions earlier in the week, there has now been a great cider pressing session with the Godson helping out most enthusiastically. He is very keen on home-made brews of various kinds so he & the Farmer are having a lovely time fiddling around with air-locks & demi-johns & discussing yeasts and pectins & percentage volumes of alchohol. It all gets a bit beyond me...& I don't drink any of the stuff anyway!

The last puppy went to its new home yesterday. Some very nice people from Monmouthshire came to collect her and of course she was adorable and made them think she was really, really pleased to see them and needed to go home with them as 9 week old puppies do, treacherous little dears that they are.
I am quite satisfied that all the puppies have gone to genuine homes where they will be loved and given a good dogs life...they all had such happy childhoods here. (Sorry to be anthropomorphic, but they did!)

Thursday 23 September 2010

New Look Website, Last Lab Puppy,

After a lot of work over the past few months, my new look website is now live, and I'm very pleased with it. My friend M. who is in clever enough to do the necessary techy stuff, has done a great job I think, and has made Penyrallt look an attractive proposition for a Welsh holiday, I hope.

We are now down to one lone black puppy. Yesterday evening a family drove down from Bolton (!) to take the other one back to be an adored companion.
I am continually amazed at how far people will travel to acquire a puppy.
This last little one we will not keep, though we were tempted, but we do have four dogs here already and really don't need another one the moment. A good home will turn up for her in due course, I know.

The Farmer went off this morning to buy some ewe lambs from a neighbour. They are fine organic lambs and from a very well managed flock, so they , hopefully, will do us well over the next few years.

Yesterday the Farmer's godson arrived from Devon with his girlfriend, to camp in the orchard for a few days.  As he arrived, Younger Son & the Kiwi went off to North Wales for a few days, so I've exchanged one giant 22yr old for another and the consumption of cake has nearly got me beat. It is rare that my tins are completely empty, but it happened this week. What is it with men & cake?!!!

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Home-Pressed Apple Juice, Llanerchaeron, Ethical Trading, Last 2 Lab. Puppies

The Farmer has been harvesting our apple crop in the last few days. The ancient trees in our old orchard have produced as well as ever, though the apples of this particular tree are not good keepers, so the Farmer has contrived an apple press and is juicing them all, bottling the juice and then freezing it. We then have fresh apple juice all throught winter and delicious it is too.

At the weekend the Farmer & I attended a open day event at Llanerchaeron, the National Trust house near Aberaeron, where we had been asked to man a stand on behalf of FACE, the organisation for Farming & Countryside Education. We were there to talk to the public about visiting farms with school groups and how accessible many farms are now to the public and to encourage people to make the connections between food & farming. That all sounds a bit earnest but its just a matter of engaging people in conversation, at which the Farmer is very good.
We had our stand in a rather draughty pole barn along side a man making horn-handled walking sticks, a pen of Angora goats and some Llanwenog sheep.
There were displays of bee-keeping & saddlery, a wonderful plant stall where I purchased some very healthy looking box plants and the most inspirational walled gardens to wander around, with very old espaliered apple trees, box-edged vegetable and herb plots and fish ponds, all to be found through faded creaking doors in high walls that just ask to be opened and the horticultural treasures to be revealed.

Yesterday we attended a meeting with representatives of the Soil Association, OMScO & Yeo Valley Organics to discuss  Ethical Trading. An interesting debate ensued as ethical trading is as much a part of organic production as the non-use of pesticides (there is a Soil Association Ethical Trading standard) and needs to made as visible to the consumer as Fairtrade has become. Like Fairtrade, ethical trading reaches right along the production line from the farmer/grower to the retailer. Everyone, from the farmer to the consumer should benefit from ethical trading whether they farm or shop organically and it is further reassurance to the consumer that their food has been produced sustainably.

We are now down to just 2 puppies...2 dear little black bitches who are so naughty and so endearing.
Their siblings have all gone off without a backward glance to their new homes with their adoring new families and I'm sure are giving them huge fun.
Homes will turn up for these remaining two I'm sure, in the next few days, though the Farmer has been heard to say that if they don't it's okay, we'll just keep them on and train them, though I must admit the prospect of 4 Labradors around the place is fairly daunting!

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Llangeler Parish History; 'The Way It Was In A Rural Community' by Winston Jones, Shiba Inu Rescued

Last evening the Farmer & I went up to one of our local pubs, The Lamb, having been invited to the book launch of our local historian's latest volume, 'The Way It Was in a Rural Community'.
Winston Jones is a neighbour of ours and has connections with Penyrallt as it was where his grand-parents had met whilst working here as servants in the 19th century. He is a fund of local knowledge and is very highly regarded in the locality. The pub was packed with people from all over the parish & beyond who came to wish him well with the new book and to buy their copies.
What is so lovely about Winston's books is that they are constructed around his memories of how life was in the countryside over the past 70 years and more, as he is able to draw on the deep well of stories that he was told by his parents & grandparents of a time even further back.
His first book, 'An Illustrated Chronicle of My Family Covering 200 Years' is an account of the lives of his ancestors in what had been a very remote rural community and he describes how the gradual changes in country life came about with the advent of the internal combustion engine and how the English language came into the community. He describes in the second book his first hearing of English as a boy.
It is often forgotten that English is a new language to this part of Wales and that for so many people it is their second language. Many of our friends & neighbours conduct their whole lives in the Welsh language.
Winston's books are written with clarity and a knowledge of a way of life that has largely disappeared, but they are not sentimental or rose-tinted though there is regret that so many people who now live in the countryside have so little knowledge of their community history and the world of the fields and hedgerows that surround them.
Although these books are about a tiny rural parish in deepest West Wales their stories and memories can be echoed all over the British Isles and make for fascinating reading.

The Shiba Inu has now been taken in to the care of  the Shiba rescue people in England. He went off quite happily and will now be well looked after by people who understand the breed. He was a lovely dog but definitely not suitable for life on a busy farm, not that we intended to keep him anyway... we were just doing our'good Samaritan' bit. Where he came from we have no idea and no-one has come forward to claim him, so in due course he will be re-homed with people who can give him the right environment and care.

Monday 13 September 2010

Weekend Basket-making Course

We have just held our weekend basket-making course here at the farm and I think it it went extrememly well.
On Thursday the lovely Tibetan shelter was erected on the yard by J. & B. on a beautiful evening, however by Friday morning it was pouring with rain & continued to do so all day, to our chagrin. However things had dried up on Saturday and apart from a very brief shower it was lovely and the shelter was ideal for the class.
                                                        I spent the entire weekend preparing vegetarian meals and when not cooking was welcoming four families who had come to collect their puppies.
                                                         It all got got a bit hectic and exhausting but the Kiwi was a huge          help and carried trays of refreshments out and laid tables for lunch and washed-up. We also had cottage changeovers to do for Friday &  Sunday so there was laundry & ironing to fit in as well!
The four novice basket-makers were great; good company & very enthusiastic. Their tutor J. was very impressed at how quickly they picked up the necessary techniques and their finished articles were beautiful and they were justifiably quite proud of themselves.

We are now down to 8 puppies having waved goodbye to several over the weekend. Their new owners are all lovely and they will be given such adoring homes. If people are prepared to travel from Milton Keynes & Tamworth then they are going look aftere the new dog properly. The puppies are of an age now when they will happily attach themsleves to anyone and so they go off in they new people's car without a backward glance. I have already received photos of them in their new homes and they look very cosy.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Chunky Chocolate Lab

In response to a request from L.H. who is the new owner of one of the puppies, to post some photos of his puppy on the blog, here they are. Apparently the puppy is to be called Buddy which I think rather suits him...he is large & chunky and is going to grow to be a rather handsome dog. He will be going to his new home in the next 10 days or so and I'm sure he will thrive and bring L. H. & Mrs L. H. much pleasure, though I am also sure that he will drive them to distraction as is the way of all young labradors! The first 2 years are the worst!!

We still have the Japanese Shiba Inu here and there is nobody claiming him despite postings on the internet on lost dog sites, the breed rescue sites & the Carmarthenshire Dog Pound page of the Council's website. In the next day or so I'm hoping he will be collect by the Shiba Inu Rescue people who understand the breed and will hopefully be able to trace his owners or find him a good new home.

Monday 6 September 2010

Fire Labyrinth, Really Wild Food Festival & Sheepskin Boots

A few evenings ago the Farmer, Younger Son & the Kiwi went up to see some friends who were lighting their Fire Labyrinth. This a a spectacular sight...a ancient maze pattern burnt into a large lawned area which burns with intense heat and huge dramatic effect. The bolder members of the party (including the Farmer) run round the pattern as the flames die down and the heat is much less (plenty of fire extinguishers are on hand) to reach the magnificent totem pole that stands in the middle. It is something of a ritual and a connection with the ancients and is always a exciting spectacle.

Yesterday the Farmer & I went down to St. David's to the Really Wild Food Festival. We have been going for the past few years and it always has something interesting to see or do. This year an acquaintance was there with her beautiful handmade sheepskin boots ( They are made in a wonderful rainbow of colours and she makes all sizes from tiny soft bootees for babies to boots & slippers for adults, also some marvellous hats, which will be perfect if we get another 'real' winter.

It is pouring with rain today...we had hoped to pick brambles but that is no fun when they are soaked and the hedges are dripping.