Wednesday 27 July 2011

Second-cut Silage, Strawberry Jam

Last evening at the end of a very busy day I went to help the Farmer move a small bunch of cows into clean grazing after the field had been mown for silage. The ladies-in-waiting as they are known, being cows due to calve fairly soon, made their stately progress down the lane in the lovely evening light, stopping on their way to drink from the stream that runs down the side of the lane. Cows drinking is a lovely sight...they slurp quite delicately (if that isn't a contradiction in terms), from the surface of the water in a most genteel manner.

The menfolk had spent the day bringing in the second cut of silage. A contractor came in with his self-propelled precision-chop harvester to deal with a field of whole-crop barley, crimson clover & vetch which ensiled makes excellent fodder for the cows over winter. Two fields of grass were also cut. The silage clamp is now very full and we can rest assured that there is enough feed to see us throught the winter. There will still be some big bales made later on as extra safe-guard.

While the men & machines were busy harvesting winter feed I was doing my bit to replenish the larder by making strawberry jam. I had bought a tray of stawberries ( unfortunately they are one of the fruits we don't grow ourselves) and set to hull them which took about an hour and then set to boiling them up. Strawberries are very low in pectin which means they need something added to make the jam set. I had added some setting agent but the set would not come after hours of boiling so then I remembered I had some gooseberries in the freezer which are very high in pectin. A good handfull of goosegogs thrown into the roiling swirling pan of strawberries worked wonders. I had a setting jam very quickly and was able to fill the jars. I ended up with 15 jars of good jam which should see us through.
I might just make some goosebery jam now and maybe try to use up the backlog of other fruit of various kinds in the freezer before this years crop come in.

The Farmer has just brought in trug of produce from the poly-tunnel so I shall sit in outside in the shade of the garden swing and shell peas for lunch and think of what to do with a rather overgrown is not yet a marrow but is too big to be zucchini, hmmm.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Visit to CAT, Machynlleth, Farmer's Market

A misty July morning in the valley, promise of a lovely day.

Yesterday the Farmer, our friend G. the mushroom grower ( & I went up to Machynlleth to the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT).
G. had not been there before though the Farmer & I have visited it several time over the years & we were both taken there by our parents as children when it was very, very new & still looked liked a slate quarry with couple of small wind turbines stuck on the hillside.. It is very different now with the harsh slate landscape softened by many trees & gardens and the various buildings demonstrating the sustainable technologies that are being developed to produce & save energy. There are many small garden plots with many herbs, fruit trees, bee-friendly planting and information on effective composting.
There is a very good bookshop in which, once you block out the scented candles, has lot of useful material, though there is quite a lot of  'fluffy' stuff too.
The new WISE building (the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education) has been built since we were last there. It is a huge low- or zero-carbon structure made of rammed earth & wood. It has a lecture theatre, seminar rooms, accommodation & a restaurant all designed to be as low energy & as light as possible and looks amazing ( with a vast curved wall housing the theatre which dominates the view of the building from the gardens that surround it.

After a late picnic lunch sitting on a blade from a wind turbine near the 'station' for the water powered lift that takes visitors up to the entrance of CAT, we went into Machynlleth to find our friends R. & M. who were at the weekly Farmer's Market selling their bread ( Mach.'s Farmer's Market is great, many stalls all selling wonderful food stuffs as well as the usual market stall goods. We bought some bread, naturally, and some wonderful cheeses including a good strong farmhouse Cheddar & a piece of golden-hued Shropshire Blue which with some home-grown salad will make a delectable supper.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Trawsnewid Calon Teifi Transition Group Folds

After several weeks of emails, meetings & dialogues the Farmer & I attended a final meeting yesterday in which our local Transition Group Trawsnewid Calon Teifi was closed.
It is very sad that this has come about but due to 'a breakdown of trust & co-operation' it was felt that the group could not move forward in its present form and the only way to resolve the difficulties was to bring the whole thing to an end.
In order to dissolve the group in the most civilised & painless way an external facilitator was brought in to ensure that feelings were not allowed to get heated & possibly result in  unpleasant scenes which would have been distressing for everyone present.
The facilitator was extraordinary in her control of the space & energies that were in the room. I have not experienced anything quite like it before. What had the potential to be a very disturbing meeting ended up as a calm & expressive gathering of people, most of whom had the same desires to bring about a peaceful change to an extremely difficult situation. By allowing those who wished to speak and express their views & feelings about the situation in a safe & trusting environment a very meaningfull & constructive dialogue was achieved which was fascinating to observe & resulted in a much healthier atmosphere of hope.
It is sad that after nearly 4 years of hard work & dedication by a number of enthusiastic people it has had to end, however there is feeling that eventually a phoenix can arise from the ashes and a new Transition group will be able to start up and carry on the work albeit in a somewhat different mould.
Despite the demise of the umbrella group the single interest groups that had formed, such as the Food Circle, the Veg. Group & the Energy Group will continue to function as usual until such time as everyone can be brought together again.
A new website has been set up to give information regarding the transition movement in the Teifi Valley,

Saturday 9 July 2011

Primary School Visits Farm

Yesterday we had a visit from one of our local primary schools arranged by the charitable arm of the the Countryside Alliance, the Countryside Alliance Foundation (
 A photographer/journalist from our local paper, The Carmarthen Journal, also turned up, so we hope there will be good report on the visit in next weeks edition.
 Despite the threat of horrible weather a group of 30 3-4year olds arrived during the morning in a state of high excitement. The visit got off to a wonderful start with one the little girls finding a baby frog (broga bach) in the grass as she got off the bus. Fortunately the Farmer managed to catch it before a hoard of curious small children trampled on it and they were all able to see it at close quarters.
After a demonstration of sheep shearing and a good walk to see some cattle ( to wear them out !) they ate their picnic lunches sitting on bales of straw in one of the sheds. Lunch was followed by the Farmer showing how butter is made. In good Blue Peter style we had prepared some earlier, though a small hand churn was passed around for everyone to have a go and then I spread some of the fresh butter on to crackers for them to taste.
After being shown a very big tractor with engine revving loudly which impressed the little boys no end, we took them to see the laying hens, Two sensible little girls were then allowed to go with the basket to collect the eggs...they were thrilled! The Farmer caught one of the Bluebells who very patiently put up with being stroked & cooed over.

We had a lovely time with then children and although they were so young I hope they got some inkling of what a farm is all about and where their food comes from. However, when I asked one of the little boys what had been the best bit of the day he said after a long pause for thought, ' Going to the toilet!.' I was somewhat taken aback! The facilities are in a rather basic but perfectly clean & functional portable wooden 'tardis' known as the Ty Bach, (Welsh colloquialism meaning 'little house') built by the Farmer that is plumbed in with flushing loo and wash basin, but I would doubt it merits being the high light of the day!

Monday 4 July 2011

Glorious Summer, Sun Affected Cattle, Leeches & Other Pond Llife

Dappled shade on a summer's morning...we have been having such glorious weather these last few days, though apparently it is not set to last, with rain forecast for the middle of the week. Ah, well!
Hay has been made while the sun shines though; the Boys having been off turning hay for a couple of neighbours and its been perfect weather for the digger work that has been going on in Elder Son's garden.

This morning I helped the Farmer & Elder Son move one of the Hereford cows and her adopted Belgian Blue X calf out of group of very young heifers to join the rest of the Herefords. The calf seems to be suffering from a reaction to the sun whereby its white hair is dropping out. We have seen this happen before; it does no lasting harm and looks worse than it is, though it will probably retard the calf's growth somewhat. The worst case of it we had was many years ago in along hot summer when one of the black & white dairy cows lost all her white hair and was left looking very strange with pink skin  patched with black hair. That case so severe that the Farmer would leave her in shed during the day and put her out to graze at night. She did recover.

It has been wonderful weather for the insect life around the farm with giant dragonflies zooming around like miniature helicopters and a better show of butterflies than I've seen for a couple of years. The Farmer & I walked down to check some cattle at the bottom of the valley & I saw a common blue, which is not so common here and many little brown fritillaries and commas. Outside Elder Son's cottage every year there are Red Admirals which spend much time sunning themselves on the sun soaked gravel, while up in the polytunnels the Farmer is greatly excercised in keeping the activity of the cabbage whites to the minimum before their caterpillars colonise our brassicas. The other problem he is having to contend with is rabbits...they have eaten all the leek seedlings and I think there is a sacrificial row of cabbages! Stalking rabbits with a shotgun is not easy in a polytunnel...the risk of puncturing the plastic being one problem and traps just don't work.

Back to insects and suchlike, yesterday I was down dabbling my toes in one of the ponds, it being so hot, and saw a rather revolting creature clinging to piece of pond weed and waving itself around in the water. It was a leech and quite horrid in the way it stretched iteslf out to length of about 3inches and then contracted down to about 1/2 an inch in its search for another anchor point. The Farmer has been swimming in the ponds these hot days but somehow I just can't make myself join him & the more repellant inhabitants of the water. Whilst I quite appreciate the place of the leech in the great scheme of things and its use in medicine, which has been revived, I really don't fancy swimming alongside them.
Squidgy, stretchy, sucking creatures apart I love watching the other life-forms of the ponds; the water-boatmen sculling about in the clear shallows and the other creatures known as whirligig beetles that look like drops of mercury skimming across the surface of the water. The dragon & damsel flies are spectacular in their aerobatics and compete with the swallows in their displays. The labradors make full use of the ponds in this hot weather and don't even bother to ask for a stick to be thrown  before they leap in and swim around just for the sheer pleasure of it...they don't know about those leeches!.