Friday 30 July 2010

Food Preservation, Sustainable Tourism - the Paradox.

This is hydrangea is shrub that does very well round here and I have a superb display at present in the big garden where the shades of vivid blue merging into pinky-purples is lovely.

The puppies are doing very well at just a week old with their two mums looking after them very conscientiously, but they are still not very photogenic.

Our friend the Climate Change Expert stayed with us last night and over breakfast this morning we had a very interesting conversation in which we discussed how the old tried & tested methods of food preservation, which have dictated our tastes, had become anachronistic in these days of refridgeration. Take bacon for example; making bacon developed as a method of preserving pig meat but we liked bacon so much that it has become a standard part of our diet, yet with refridgeration and the ability to preserve meat in a deep freeze we actually no longer need to make bacon, yet it is still a required food. The same can be said of cheese. Cheese making is another example of preserving protein against when there is a seasonal shortage.
For those us who still bottle fruit, preserve eggs, make jams & make our own cheese, we only do it because we choose to, not because we have to.

As I said a few days ago I have been occupied with the next season's advertising of the holiday cottage and have been going more & more towards the sustainable and green holiday market. Being an organic farm is huge plus and of course we run our house & the cottage as sustainably as possible using only environmentally friendly household products etc. Our water supply is from natural springs that occur at the top of the farm and most of the furniture has been made by the Farmer from our own trees and many of the soft furnishings have been made using local Welsh wool fabrics. So, our greeen credentials are quite good. We cannot turn the farm over to renewable energy sources at present as the electricity demand is so great for milking, though it is something we are looking into.
With the sustainable tourism movement there is a paradox in the whole issue in that while tourism can deliver great benefits to local communities the enviromental transport cost of getting to places for a 'green' holiday is inherently unsustainable. Whilst I do all I can to encourage people to come to West Wales I am very conscious that they all drive here and then spend so much of their time whilst in the area driving their cars from one lovely place to another. Yet we are all urged to live more sustainably. A paradox indeed.

Monday 26 July 2010

Second-Cut Silage, Thriving Puppies, Eco Holidays, Farmer's Wife Throws Car Tyres

Despite the damp weather the Farmer & the boys cut grass yesterday for silage and though it rained quite heavily last night they are succeeding in getting it in today without further far.
I accompanied the Farmer to our local town this morning to fetch a vast roll of plastic silage sheeet that had to be wedged into our 4x4 at such an angle that the Farmer had to crouch in the very back as both the front passenger seat & the back seat had to be laid flat in order to accommodate the roll. It is enough sheeting to cover an area about 40' x 60' that is very neatly rolled up in such a way that when it comes to laying it out over the silage clamps it unfolds out of a series giant pleats which is amazing to see and makes the job much easier.
The really horrible part of the process of silage making comes when the hundreds of old car tyres have be distributed over the clamp...I dutifully did it for 20 years and then said enough was enough and I make cake instead for younger tyre hurlers who don't mind getting soaking wet with stinking water from the tyres that often contain livestock in the form of toads & frogs.

The puppies are doing very well and grow visibly day by day. Both their real & adoptive mothers are happy and there is more than enough milk for 13 tiny people so we are not having to supplement them at all.

Younger Son & S. went up to Alcester at the weekend for the CLA Game Fair and had a wonderful time. YS came home dreaming of beautiful guns at £19,000 a throw and enthusing about muzzle-loaders and other equally dangerous boys toys.

I am spending time at the moment working on my 'marketing strategy' for the holiday cottage. There is a increasing demand for 'green' & sustainable holidays (which is almost a contradiction in terms, I feel) and we fulfill much of the criteria for that market with the organic farming ethos and the emphasis on eco- friendly practice in the cottage in terms of the decor & furnishings as well as housekeeping materials & products. It is interesting to see what other holiday accommodation providers are doing in the same field and trying to find a USP (unique selling point) without getting too precious about sustainability and eco-friendliness.

I spoke rashly when I said I no longer hurl tyres...what I have I just been doing? Yup, heaving stinking, water-logged, filthy tyres off the silage clamp as the sheet needed to be removed in order to accommodate what is turning out to be a large crop of second-cut. And not just chucking tyres about ( and just for the record, I am not built like a Russian shot-putter!!), but dragging acres of wet black plastic sheet off the clamp and piling it up in a tangled mass which no doubt will have to sorted out to be re-used. What fun we have in the country making our own entertainment!
I suppose that is the mark of true farmer's wife when against her better judgement she just has to down tools and join in on urgent agricultural matters when the labour force is over-stretched and the work has to be halo is gleaming!

Saturday 24 July 2010

Labrador Puppies & Wet Nurse, Cors Caron, Red Kite Centre Tregaron

Yesterday evening we returned home from a day out to find my black lab Hattie, had produced eleven beautiful puppies and two more followed later in the evening. I must admit to being taken by surprise as I had not thought they were due until next weekend, but we now have three yellow, two chocolate and eight black puppies squeaking in a nest. Hattie is being marvellous though slightly shell-shocked by what has hit her, however, Poppy our old lab is once more taking on the role of wet-nurse. She is extraordinary...for several years now since she has had no puppies of her own, she has come in to milk whenever one or other of the dogs has had pups and adopts them without any difficulty. It is wonderful as it eases the strain on the mother, especially when the litter is as large as this one. We have litters only once in a while but each time Poppy rises to occasion..she seems to actively enjoy looking after tiny puppies and they thrive on having two mothers.
Puppies are not very photogenic when they are very tiny, looking like little satiny slugs, but in a couple of weeks they will photograph well.

Yesterday the Farmer & I went out with my brother & his wife who were staying with us for a day or so, to the Wool Museum in the nearby village of Drefach-Velindre. It was fascinating and the Farmer was very pleased to see the huge spinning jenny working which he had not seen before. We have been to the museum often as it just down the road, but this time we joined in the demonstration tour of the machinery which was well worth doing. The progress from drop spindles and spinning wheeels and looms in cottages to the huge industrial machinery of the great wool mills of Wales is a remarkable story and the museum tells it brilliantly.(

After the Wool Museum we went up to Lampeter where we had an excellent lunch in the small cafe that is part of Jen Jones Welsh Quilt Centre ( and then on to Cors Caron or Tregaron Bog, the famous and very special raised or floating bog in mid-Wales. It is now a National Nature Reserve managed by the Countryside Council of Wales ( A circular walkway has been over the bog and we walked this in glorious sunshine with spectacular views a cross the bog and up to the mountains of mid-Wales. The highlight of the walk was when my brother spotted an adder lying curled up at the side of the path, which stayed put long enough for us to get a very good look at it before sliding off quite leisurely into the undergrowth. None of us apart from the Farmer had ever seen and adder before despite our years of living and walking in the countryside.
After the lovely walk we repaired to Tregaron for a cup of tea at the wonderful & eccentric Red Kite Centre and Museum. The Farmer & I love this is run by volunteers from the village who are so friendly and welcoming and they make a great cup of tea and delicious Welsh-cakes. A lot of visitors call in there expecting it be a kite feeding station of which there are a couple in mid-Wales, but it better than that in that it tells the story of the rescue of the red kite from near extinction and the amazing history of Tregaron and the drovers taking the cattle to London markets before the railways came into rural Wales.
The kite is now very well re-established and is able to fend for itself these day so the feeding stations are not approved of by many. They distort the population of birds in any one area by bringing too many to one place and therefore the birds cannot survive on their own in those areas as the food source is limited. The feeding stations have become tourist attractions and to the detriment of the wild birds that now have to rely them.

After Tregaron we headed back home and stopped at The Belle Inn at Llanllwni for an excellent meal during which we received a 'phone call from Younger Son to say that 10 puppies had arrived but everything was under control. By the time the 13th puppy had arrived it was about 10 o'clock and there were clearly not going to be any more. We settled Hattie and her large brood under a heat-lamp and left her to it. They were all fine this morning and between them Poppy & Hattie will rear the puppies without too much difficulty.

Saturday 17 July 2010

Garden Survives Summer Storms, Dutch Visitors See Dolphins & Bats,

Back on my own computer at last.
Despite the vile weather this last week the garden is still managing to look good and has not been too battered by the winds that we endured the other night.
The roses are doing very well this year thanks I'm sure, to the very hard pruning I gave them and as I write I am looking out onto a beautiful dispaly of Kiftsgate tumbling in creamy billows over a wall at the back of the house and a gorgeous display of Rosa Mundi in her lovely striped petticoats.

This morning we said goodbye to a delightful Dutch family who have been here for the past week. They were thrilled to have seen dolphins and seals at reasonably close quarters when they went out oa boat from Newquay. Sightings of cetaceans can never be guaranteed and so I'm always so pleased when any of our visitors do manage to see them, which is rarely. Their brushes with wildlife continued one evening during the week when a disorientated bat came into our kitchen. We found it crawling on the floor, so the Farmer caught it and took it over for the children in the cottage to see. Again, to see such a creature at close quarters is unusual and they were very excited by it.

On Wednesday the Farmer had to go into Carmarthen to see our accountant, so Younger Son's girlfriend & I took the opportunity to go shopping. After we had exhausted the delights (!) of Carmarthen we went on to the sweet little town of  Narberth in Pembrokeshire where there is some seriously good shopping ( if one is in funds) and we had a lovely time looking at expensive 'stuff' and buying some expensive cheeses & olives in a wonderful delicatessan which we always make a bee-line for.
The run down through south Carmarthenshire and part of Pembrokeshire was a good opportunity to show S. the area. She finds it all so different to Canterbury Plain, being hilly and with narrow twisting lanes edged by hedges, a complete contrast to vast open farmland intersected by dead straight roads and huge paddocks marked only by fence-lines.

The men-folk are waiting, yet again, for the weather to improve in order to get grass cut, both our own and that of various other farmers who they do contract work for. While it is sunny today I think the forecast for the week is not good so there will be idle machinery and frustrated farmers all over the place.
Next week the Royal Welsh Show takes place at Llanelwedd, near Builth Wells...the highlight of many a Welsh farmer's year. The boys are planning to go and Younger Son has bought himself a tent as he and S. plan to go up for a few days and meet various college friends in the showground, while Elder Son will go only for one day. If the forecast is right they will have a very muddy time!

Thursday 15 July 2010

Still No PC, Milk Academy Meeting, Renovation of Milking Parlour

Well, I am still without my pc and deeply frustrating it is now proving to be...Younger Son's laptop is all very well but does limit my activities (the Farmer would say that is an excellent thing!) but nonetheless trying to do 'cottage stuff' & the blog as well as various other things without the resources of my own computer is now getting to be tedious.

On Tuesday we had a Milk Academy meeting here with half a dozen organic dairy farmers and a speaker from IBERS (the agricultural research department of Aberystwyth university) who was very informative on Soil. This may sound a rather uninspiring subject but in fact was fascinating. He spoke about the structure of soil and all its constituent parts, its chemical analysis and its function and how it is affected by all that we do farmers do to it and on it. On a walk around the farm soils samples were taken to study how much compaction has occurred in the various fields due to the differing activies that have taken place and also to see what the worm population was like. Worms, of course, are vital to healthy soil.
It was an interesting day and everyone learned something new.
Inevitably conversation moved away from just soil and went onto general farming topics that affect us all, including how we cope with male calves that are worth almost nothing. The best comment I heard on the eventual sale of a calf for a pittance, was, 'Duw, it wasn't worth keeping the bugger, but at least I had the muck & the company!'

The boys are very busy re-vamping our milking parlour. It is proving to be a bigger job than anticipated, as always, but they are struggling on and the end result will be good. They are able to do this job now as we are only milking a handful of cows at present and so can use only half the parlour each milking time. Once the new metalwork and pipework are all in place and the whole place painted it will look very smart and fit for purpose.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Computer out of action, Kiwi Luggage Turns Up, Aberystwyth Bookbinder

No picture today as I'm having to use Younger Son's laptop thanks to a power cut the other day which then resulted in a power surge which cooked some vital internal organ on my computer. It is being fixed but that takes time of course, meanwhile YS kindly allows me to use his laptop which is great as it means I can sit in the kitchen and supervise various culinary activities whilst writing the blog.

Our New Zealand visitor is settling in I think, though she is still getting over jet-lag, the seasonal difference and the shock of finding her luggage had remained in the Antipodes. The good news on that front is that it has at last arrived having been brought to the farm by courier on Friday.
Since she has been here, it has hardly stopped raining and she finds that it is strange to have warm rain....when it rains on Canterbury Plain it is always freezing cold apparently.

On Wednesday the Farmer & I went up to Aberystwyth to visit a book-binder. We found the bindery down a short alleyway in a tiny little hidden courtyard in the middle of Aber. where it shared signs for a bookmaker...bookbinder & bookmaker in the same place, all very confusing and rather Dickensian! However, we found the right doorway and met a delightful & enthusiastic man who has agreed to give new life to a very large atlas that has been in the Farmer's family since it was published at the beginning of Victoria's reign. It is marvellous book with maps of not just all the known world, but street plans of all the major cities in Europe and also beautiful drawings of the important buildings in each city. We use the volume a lot and it has just fallen apart but deserves to have a bit of tlc.
After leaving the bookbinder, we went into Aberystwyth museum for shelter from the torrential downpour that hit the town. The Farmer wanted to look at the construction of some old chairs that are there. The museum is housed in what had been a Victorian theatre and many of the exhibits are displayed around a gallery overlooking the main part of the theatre where the stalls would have been. Once we had seen what we needed to see, we went back to the car via an ice-cream stall, still in the pouring rain, and sat like a couple of oldies watching the sea through a streaming windscreen eating cones of delicious ice-cream...all terribly British.

The Farmer and the boys are waiting for the weather to improve so that they can have a few days of dry weather in order to get some more grass cut. Whether they will get it this week is anybody's guess, although we have a lovely day today it has now clouded over and we have lowering grey clouds building up into a dramatic & threatening skyscape and it looks as though we will getting wet evening.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Lost Luggage, Gooseberry Crop, Luggage Found,

We have a houseful of people at the moment. Younger Son's Kiwi girl-friend, S. has arrived as has one of his college friends, J. Yesterday YS & J. drove up to Heathrow to meet S. off her flight which was an hour early getting in, which was great but her luggage was still in Christchurch!! So the pooor girl, after travelling for about 37 hours has arrived in the UK with nothing but but one piece of hand-luggage for a 2 month stay. They have all gone off to our local town this morning to buy her some clothes!
The airline and insurance company between them should find and deliver the missing suitcase we hope, in the next few days.

I have been topping & tailing gooseberries this morning. We have had a good first cropping, enough to freeze and make gooseberry crumble for lunch.
It looks as though we are going to have a very good blackcurrant crop too, so lots of blackcurrant jelly, cordial and puree for ice-cream or sorbet.

The missing luggage has been Sydney, in the care of  Quantas rather than Cathay-Pacific which is the airline S. travelled with. Still, at least it has been located and is now on its way to London and will then be delivered to the farm by courier.

Friday 2 July 2010

Mud-Happy Piglings, International Visitors,

After yesterday's 24 hour down-pour for which we gave much thanks, the pigs are now happier in their paddock. They really don't like too much heat and being able to rootle round in some mud is heaven for them. They are great fun & the Labradors & I go and have conversation with them each day...they are quite intrigued by the dogs, so much so that they forget there is an electric fence separating them and the mutual investigations have been broken off very abruptly by squeals of anguish as their sensitive noses just catch the fence. It is all very short-lived  and they go off  to a far corner of their patch mumbling & grumbling  to themselves to regain their dignity. Their comic curiosity always reminds me of a favourite series of children's books about Sam Pig by Alison Uttley which I still read now and then. Sweet Sam Pig who lives in a house in the woods with his brothers and sister and Brock the badger and his adventures with people and fairies in a countryside that has now vanished. All children should meet Sam Pig.

The rain yesterday was incessant and much needed though it has left the gardens looking somewhat flattened, but the dried-up streams on the farm have begun to run again as has the spring flowing into one of the ponds. The Farmer & the boys are pleased that it rained so much...the grass will now grow well for the second cut of silage especially as the temperature is very warm. Perfect grass growing weather.

We have had some delightful Americans in the cottage this week from Brooklyn, New York. Such a contrast for them to be here in West Wales after the city life of New York. They have inevitably commented on how quiet it is and that the only sound is the birdsong rather than sirens and traffic noise. They are lithograph printers and produce the most beautiful work for artists from all over America.(
Our American visitors join the ranks of our international guests this summer. Tomorrow we have people from Holland arriving and then over the next few weeks we have more families from Holland & Belgium coming to stay. We enjoy these foreign visitors very much and they seem to love Wales, especially the Dutch who really appreciate the hilliness...I can't imagine why! This year we will have visitors from Hungary, Ireland, Australia, Belgium, Holland and the U.S.A and of course from that remote & exotic land across the bridge, England...not bad for a small cottage on a farm in West Wales.