Wednesday 26 May 2010

Stitched-up Farmer, Transition Movement, Plea for Rain, Lilac & Rhododendrons

Yesterday was a day of alarm when the Farmer, in his efforts to provide me with what he calls 'blog-fodder' went to the extreme measures of requiring a trip to our local GP's surgery for emergency stitching!
Whilst working with his large and very safe bandsaw, he managed to trip and fell onto the spare blades that were near by and neatly sliced open his right forearm. He now has 6 stitches & 4 steri-strips holding together an eight inch wound and some impressive looking bandaging.  He was very lucky; he could so easily have opened a vein or artery in his arm.
We are very fortunate that our surgery is only 4 miles away and that they are prepared to do emergency work such as this instead of sending us all way into Carmarthen to our local general hospital. We were home within the hour and the Farmer then spent the rest of the day prone upon a sofa after I had insisted that he take things easy for a while. He was all for rushing straight back out side to work as is his wont. After  a couple of hours he began to ask why I wasn't bringing him grapes & Lucozade so I felt that the sympathy tap could be turned off at that point, though he still could not go out to continue sawing wood. Fortunately a neighbour had just given him a supply of back numbers of 'New Scientist' so they kept him occupied for the afternoon.

I have recently been nominated onto the Core Team of our local transition group, Trawsnewid Calon Teifi ( and went to a meeting last night. The group is very active on various different fronts designed to help local people undertake growing vegetables and managing woodlands and learning new (old, traditional) skills. Today we have another basket-making course here at the farm which I shall enjoy.

The rain which were expecting yesterday evening has not not arrived, so we hope it might come today. The Farmer is getting rather desperate for rain as he has three fields with over £1000 worth of seed on them, that are just not growing as it has been so dry lately. Also we need our established leys of grass to grow well now for the silage crop that will be taken off next month.

Despite the lack of rain, the weeds in the gardens are doing very well! I am waging a constant battle against buttercups,
There is a large lilac tree outside the holiday cottage and it is in full flower now and looks wonderful and the rhododendrons are just starting to open. We have some very old rhododendrons which were planted well over 100 years ago and are huge and when in full flower are a magnificent sight.

The Farmer has just come in for breakfast and has brought me bunch of meadow flowers for the kitchen table, pink campion, stitchwort and ferns. They are lovely.

Monday 24 May 2010

Penyrallt Woods at Bluebell Time

                                                This morning the dogs & I walked through our bluebell woods, It was glorious in the cool shadows of the trees where the thick growth of young ferns and small woodland plants were shown to their best advantage with the cerulean tints of the bluebells hanging in miniature croziers and with the birds singing and the small river rippling across the stones in the dappled light it was 'very bliss'.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Springtime Foal, Perfect May, Fossil Hunters, P. G.Wodehouse & Other Very Good Books

The Farmer & I happened to be out this morning when we met our neighbours walking this mare and her foal out to a field. They were so beautiful. The foal is about 3 weeks old and stuck very close to its mum who in turn was very protective of it, constantly ensuring that she was always between it and the two other horses in the field. It was the first time out for the foal and for her to meet others of her species. We all stood for ten to fifteen minutes just watching the social adjustments of the animals. It is fascinating seeing how they control the social group and how the young are treated and cared for.

It was a perfect May morning and promising to be very hot later in the day again. The first of the May blossom has emerged now and the scent of spring as one walks through our woods and copses is intoxicating. Maytime is assaulting the all senses at present with the songs of blackbirds and robins everywhere; there are the incredible shades of green  flooding the hedges and fields dotted over with the gold of butercups and dandelions and the blurring of the outlines of trees against the clear forget-me-not skies. In the woods the scent of bluebells is overpowering and their glorious colour is broken up by the sharp pink of the campion flowers and the pure white of wild garlic and stitchwort.

I tend not to read a great deal of modern fiction (as is proved by my addiction to Persephone Books, but have just been reading Tracy Chevalier's novel, 'Remarkable Creatures'. It is so good...based on the characters of Mary Anning , the fossil collector from Lyme Regis, and Elizabeth Philpot, it is a fascinating story of women entering a male dominated field of study and at a time when many questions were beginning to be asked about creation and mankind's place in the great scheme of things.
I have also been discovering P. G. Wodehouse who, amazingly, has not come under my radar until now.  Blandings Castle and its inhabitants is just wonderful.
I have been delighted to discover a blog writer who also does not care overmuch for modern literature, Desperate Reader ( and she shares my love of Persephone Books and others of that ilk; books written between the wars and just after, such as 'The Brontes went to Woolworths' by Rachel Ferguson, 'Henrietta's War' by Joyce Denny and anything by Elizabeth Taylor.
I am greatly looking forward to starting 'Lady Audley's Secret' by Mary Elizabeth Braddon when I have finished 'Evelina' by Fanny Burney which is so funny.
I'm afraid I'm one of those dilettante readers with several books of varying types, on the go at once. I always have something cheerful and reasonably lightweight to read in bed and I must admit to a weakness for the occasional bit of  'chick-lit' and sequels to Jane Austen, some of which are very good indeed and some are really bad..

Friday 21 May 2010

Farewell to Australians,

Well, we have just waved off our Australian visitors after taking them to pick up their hire car in Carmarthen. They are now on the last leg of their round Britain tour going down to the West country and then up to London.
Their three days here in West Wales have been very full and I hope informative. What J. & M. commented on most was the age of everything here...the fact that our farmhouse dates back well into the 17th century at least, was wonderful for them. After meeting them off the ferry at Fishguard, we took them to the ancient site of the Pentre Ifan burial chamber having had a picnic in the Presceli Mountains at a lovely vantage point above the small town of Newport with a fabulous view of that part of the Pembrokeshire coast line.
The following day after visiting the wonderful 18th century Felin Ganol watermill ( where we were given the warmest and friendliest of welcomes, we had fish & chips on the beach at Aberaeron. It was a very British lunch on the beach with us all wearing zipped-up coats and discussing how grey and windy it was but wasn't it fun and so very different to a 'barbie' on the beach in Australia!
We also visited an organic farm run by some friends of ours nearby, Mair's Bakehouse ( run by our friend the Artisan Breadmaker and Caws Cenarth, the award winning local organic cheese makers (
Everywhere we went we had great hospitality and excellent conversation about organics and I hope J. will go back to Australia with lots of useful information that she can apply to the small farm she runs at the school where she teaches agriculture near Woollagong.

Monday 17 May 2010

Curiosity of Cattle & Neurotic Labradors, Puddings for Anticipated Australian Visitors, Parenting Skills of Thrushes, May Greenery

Cattle are such curious (as in nosey as well as peculiar) I was walking down our driveway yesterday with the dogs, the younger labrador who is of a rather nervous disposition when it comes to cows, was very alarmed to see three of the dreaded beasties looking down at her from the top of the hedge bank. They were just checking out the comings & goings and were telling of what they saw to the bunch of heifers in the field opposite who in their turn had ambled up to the fence to see what we were about. The poor dog was a wreck with all this bovine attention and her relief was visible as we turned back up the drive and away from the coven of cows. What the loopy Lab doesn't realise is that that cattle have Attention Deficit Disorder in bucketloads and have forgotten all about her as soon as they see the next luscious clump of grass.

I have spent the afternoon cooking & baking for guests from Australia who arrive to stay with us for 4 days this week.
I am trying to use up what is in the deep freeze from last year before the new seasons crops are neeeding to go in. It is always a challenge to think of something interesting to do with what is lurking at the bottom of the freezer in unmarked boxes! Today I found a quantity of blackcurrants so have made puddings for the week;  a blackcurrant sponge pudding, a blackcurrant meringue pie and a fool. Its a good thing we like blackcurrants!
Our Aussie visitors are in the UK on a study tour of organic farms and we shall be meeting them off the ferry at Fishguard on Tuesday after their stint in Ireland. We shall be taking them to various organic producers in West Wales including our friend the Artisan Bread-maker,(, a fully working water-mill  (, a cheese maker ( and a couple of organic farms in the area. It should be an interesting few days for us all.

The pair of thrushes that were so busily building their nest in sight of one of my kitchen windows, have now it seems, hatched their brood as the couple are busy all day long running a relay of feeding. Yesterday I saw one them hovering like a huge humming-bird outside the nest while it waited for its mate to emerge so that it could take its turn to feed the ever hungry young. They are frantically busy and the speed with which they deliver their food parcels and are off on the next forage is amazing. We haven't dared look in the nest to see how many babies are there, but even if there was only one I'm sure the parents would still be as frenetic.

May is really underway now with the countryside steadily donning its green robes. The oak trees are a superb verdant gold while the huge beech trees adjacent to the farmhouse are thick with their beautiful salad green new leaves. There are pigeons roosting in one of the beech trees and every now then they emit a curious groaning sound, very unbird-like, but presumably of great significance if you are a pigeon, though just comical to the Farmer & me as we were drinking our post- lunch coffee in the sunshine.

I must now go and continue with getting the house ready for our Antipodean guests and I have a horrible feeling I really ought to clean the car which is very 'farmy'. I think it would be unfair to expect people to put themselves & their tidy luggage in it! The detritus that accumulates in a vehicle that is used for everything from going shopping to taking wet labradors on shoots and muddy collies to round up sheep, to say nothing of the large chunks of wood that the Farmer collects for various creative purposes,  is pretty terrible. Ah well...thank goodness for Henry!

Friday 14 May 2010

Hosting Farm Visits, New Agriculture Minister, Indian Runner ducks

Yesterday the Farmer & I hosted a farm walk for a small party from our local Transition Group. For many of the party it was their first opportunity to see a real working farm and to talk to a farmer and ask questions on all aspects of farming.They were shown the milking parlour and dairy, the cows of course, and full range of what we do here.
 In this picture the visitors are being shown the last of our silage crop from last year and the Farmer is explaining to them exactly what silage is and how it is made...they were fascinated. After this we took them up through the fields to the top of the farm to see established pastures and to talk about hedge laying and wood supplies. One well managed hedgerow can provide enough wood to satisfy our firewood needs for a considerable length of time.
After the walk everyone came back to the farmhouse for tea, cake and discussion in the kitchen. It is always very interesting to hear peoples comments on their tour round the place and how very appreciative they are, but more particularly on what they have learned  from seeing at first hand how milk is produced or beef is reared. Although we are not typical of many farms in Britain, we are pleased to be able to have the public visit us and for them to feel that they have had a valuable learning experience as well as a pleasant afternoon in the countryside. ( I hope that does not sound rather patronising!)

Well, we have a new government and a new minister in charge of DEFRA. At least Caroline Spelman has a background in agriculture and has stated that she has a desire to'increase food production' according to the report in the Farmers Guardian. Roger Williams, LibDem agriculture spokesman in the previous govenment, and a farmer, has said there is reason for 'great optimism' for farmers. Interesting times ahead!

A couple of days ago we were given some Indian Runner drakes that were surplus to requirements on a friends smallholding. The Farmer built them a neat little duck house that floats in the middle of the pond near the house and put them in it for their first night here. The following morning the Farmer got into his canoe and paddled out to release them. They immediately made their way to the bank and have not gone near the water since. Fortunately they are protected from Reynard by the electric fence that is keeping the chickens secure while they range-freely around the pond paddock. We think they are not accustomed to a large expanse of water and so are completely freaked out by it!
They are odd looking ducks, rather like tall bottles on legs and they sway around the edge of the pond bank in a tight nervous trio. Beacuse they are quite tall and elongated they have that same look as meerkats, of peering into the distance preparing to be alarmed. They are very comical.

Yesterday the Farmer was lamenting the lack of rain to encourage his re-seeded fields to grow. Today his prayers have been answered and it has hardly stopped raining all day. It is 'gentle rain from heaven' which is perfect for the seeds and for the gardens which have also been very dry  of course, so things will now shoot on apace in the next few days, especially if the temperatures warm up a little too.
Everything is now dressed in the most amazing shades of spring green and beginning to look lush though the oak & ash trees are slow in coming into leaf and neither one seems to be ahead of the other so we are a bit confused about the old adage this year;
If the oak comes before the ash,
Then we are in for a splash.
If the ash before oak we are in for a soak.

Saturday 8 May 2010

Election Results, Bees

Well, the Farmer & I went to cast our votes at the local chapel vestry on Thursday evening and there were certainly no queues of people waiting to excercise their democratic right.. In fact the turnout, by the time we arrived had been very poor apparently. We are in a strong Plaid Cymru constituency and the Plaid candidate was returned without too much difficulty, though the Labour party did increase its votes, which surprised us.
But, whether we have a hung parliament or a majority rule, as the Farmer says, he will still have to get up to milk the cows and Westminster will continue to creak along.

This afternoon the Farmer went to the annual auction put on by the local bee-keepers. It is a sale of bee colonies, hives and equipment. However, bees are now very expensive, well over £100 for a colony and some go for far more. I think we shall be hoping for swarm to arrive in one of the hives that are placed around the farm. The bee population is suffering badly these days, with disease and predation by wasps. Last summer we lost our one remaining colony to the wasps who get into the hives and it is difficult to prevent them. we had wasp traps out and caught many but they still caused huge problems in the hives. I have found several queen wasps already this year, though they have been very dopey, just emerging from hibernation.
Bumble bees have been very active for many weeks now and in considerable numbers and with so many trees coming into blossom now they are busy lumbering around the flowers in their rather drunken way, but it is still very cold for many of the pollinating insects.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Organic Farm Walk, Guernsey Cows, No Local Abattoirs, Alternative Energy Generation

Today the Farmer & I drove north up to visit a farm near the pretty coastal town of Aberaeron and the blackthorn was in full flower everywhere looking just beautiful.
We went to this particular farm for a meeting of the Milk Academy that is organised by OMScO every couple of months for a number of organic milk producers to meet up and discuss various issues and to look at farms.

I have never attended these meetings before but today I accompanied the Farmer as we were going to go elsewhere afterwards.
There were half a dozen farmers, two chaps from OMScO and me. Very few wives go to any dairy producer meetings, but I always quite enjoy them and it is always fun to look around other farms. I knew most of the farmers today and they are good company. But a group of dairy farmers (and their wives), is surely the only gathering where a man can say 'I do like like the look of your udders!' and no-one bats an eyelid! We were standing in field surrounded by herd of lovely Guernsey cows at the time and yes, they did have good udders. Conformation of udders and backsides is a necessary topic of conversation in certain social situations.

The farm walk was interesting and seeing a herd of Guernsey cows was lovely. They are not very common. We had one Guernsey here when our boys were little, known as Ginger, who milked superbly for many years and produced beautiful calves.
 After viewing the cattle, there was lot of discussion about grass crops and varieties of clover. Clover is the vital ingredient for organic farmers as it fixes nitrogen in the pasture. However, clover is is more temperature sensitive than grass and as a result of the very cold winter and now a cold spring the fields are rather sluggish in their growth and the crop may be very late in coming.
After walking through pastures we we then taken by the farmer whose farm we were visiting, through some beautiful oak woodlands which were just beginning to show signs of bluebells coming into flower. Another couple of weeks and they will be spectacular.
After yesterdays lovely sunshine it was disappointing today to be having to walk around in mist and drizzle and our drive home was through thick mist all along the coast. Not pleasant.

Yestetrday we took one of our Traditional Hereford beef animals to the abattoir near Tregaron. It is a very good small abattoir up in the hills of Ceredigion of a kind that is few and far between unfortunately. It is a pity that we have to make around trip of 40 miles to get to an abattoir; the Farmer's father only had to go about 4 miles, but as most small local abattoirs have been closed down thanks to the burden of paperwork and cost of up-grading to EU standards we have no choice in the matter.
The abattoir we use is very efficient and we will collect our beef in about 3 weeks time when it will have been hung well, butchered, packed and labelled for us.

The Farmer is just off out again to meeting in the village about alternative energy generation, which is something a lot of people locally are doing. We have a number of friends who are 'off grid' and generate all their own power by solar, wind and/or water. If we weren't milking it is something we would seriously consider, but with 7 motors running twice a day to milk the cows our electrity demands are too great. However, we may be able at some time to run the house &cottage off  wind & solar power which would be marvellous.

Sunday 2 May 2010

Now is the month of Maying, Welsh proverb, Transition Movement

Well, its the beginning of May and cold & damp,but there is a lot of blue sky appearing as I write, so thing's can only get better surely.
Our may trees are not in flower yet though.
The Farmer, however, is very pleased with the rain that we've had over the last couple of days as it is just what his newly sown fields needed and in fact the seeds have already sprouted. If we can now have a few days of sunshine then it will be perfect for the new leys.

I recently came across the following Welsh agricultural proverb in an anthology called 'Wales' by Alice Thomas Ellis,

Janaury will strike down.
February will despoil a giant.
March will slay.
April will flay.
May will raise the heart.
June will make merry door-way.                                 
July, a merry cattle-fold.
August, a merry host.
September rejoices the birds.
October, - cheerful is soscial intercourse.
November begins the lamentation.
December, - beware its anger.

Yesterday we did a lot of gardening, I was in our big garden putting in shrubs and the Farmer was in the poly-tunnel planting tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce etc. He also sowed  long rows of potatoes outside, though they do very well in the poly-tunnel. Having had both the the chickens and the sheep in the polytunnel over winter the ground has been very well manured and so things should do well.

Yesterday afternoon we went down to the village hall for the monthly get-together at the Transition Cafe, organised by our local transition group, Trawsnewid Calon Teifi (see It was well attended and we were shown two or three short films about getting the message across that global warming is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by everyone.
('Wake Up, Freak Out' & 'Transition Town, Lewes' can be found on You Tube & the clever satire on carbon off-setting website,
 As tends to be the case at these events, it is preaching to the converted, but lively discussion ensues and hopefully people go away and continue the discussion with their friends & acquaintances.