Tuesday 29 September 2015

Hedgerow Berry Preserves

Yesterday evening and early this morning I was out picking brambles, hawrthorn berries, rose-hips and sloes. All of these except the sloes, are now simmering away to make juice for hedgerow jelly. The sloes of course are destined for immersion in gin!
We seem to be having something of an Indian summer which is glorious and it means that the brambles are now ripening. Up till now they have been slow in ripening and not very sweet, but now with a few days of warm sunshine they are making up for it.
My larder shelves are well-stocked with preserves and it is very satisfying seeing the rows of jars of jams, jellies, marmalade,chutneys and bottled fruits to say nothing of the good quantities of honey we have had this year. It is astonishing how much jam etc. we get through in a year...in cakes, puddings and on toast.

The Farmer & I have spent a couple of days doing some much needed renovation work in the garden around the farmhouse.We have removed a border that had been completely swamped by that demon of the garden, ground elder, and the area will be lawned and I will plant bulbs to naturalise in the grass. We also took out a thick section of hedge that was making the garden dark and damp and have replaced it with a stone wall that will soon settle in and draw a cloak of ivy and small wall plants over itself.

Saturday 26 September 2015

Cider season,

The Farmer has been busy over the past couple of weeks making cider. We have a lot of apple tress here on the farm and we are given apples by people who have no need of them from their gardens so there is a goodly quantity to process. So far the Farmer reckons he has made abour 25 gallons of cider which is sitting in fermenting barrels in the kitchen bubbling away nicely. We also freeze the apple juice as juice which is delicious throughout the winter.
(Since writing this I have been taken to task over 'being unencumbered by research' therefore I apologise and must say that the Farmer has in fact made 35 gallons of cider!)

The farming industry has been full of comment lately regarding the appointment by Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, of a vegan Shadow Minister for the Environment, Kerry McCarthy. Her remark that meat eaters should be regarded in the same light as smokers is possibly a step too far and will certainly alienate the Labour party from many voters, rural or urban, and risks the Labour being seen as the party of cranks.
This appointment has caused a lot of discussion and but it should be remembered that it just the Shadow Cabinet and quite possibly Ms McCarthy (and Mr Corbyn) may never be in a position to implement these ideas.
That said it is a useful excercise to think seriously about what the implications of banning meat-eating could be.
Veganism & vegetarianism are personal lifestyle choices available to affluent Westerners. Meat & dairy-free diets are highly dependent on imported foodstuffs such as pulses, nuts etc. cannot be grown in this country thereby incresulting in many food-miles.(e.g. most soya (which cannot be guaranteed to be GM free!) comes from Brazil, US, Canada or China). How can this be sensible & ethical when we are all being encouraged to reduce food miles and 'eat local'? On the premise of eating local for 90% of our diet and at this latitude meat is an essential component of a healthy balanced diet. The joke would be if a population of 63 million people were to be dictated to by the 2% who are vegetarian or vegan? I am not anti-vegetarian/vegan, in fact I do a lot of meat-free cooking, and I do think we should eat less meat, but do not believe it should be removed from the diet by legislation...a scenario that is, of course, highly unlikely.
As food producers we are in the very fortunate and rare situation of being able to keep much of our diet very local and with very few food-miles...we use our own milk, meat, eggs and fruit & veg., though not exclusively.
Another question is how do we want our countryside to look? Here in west Wales the patchwork of fields and hedges is the result of livestock keeping because the crop that grows best here is grass and the only way for us to utilise grass is to turn it into meat. Take cattle & sheep away and a much-loved & productive landscape would have to be preserved by legislation or be lost.
(For more information on imported soya go to www.newenvironmentalist.co.uk)

Thursday 17 September 2015

Autumn Harvest, Bovine TB,

We are in the season of fruitfulness, the polytunnel is providing us with a steady supply of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, beetroot and courgettes (which sometimes have become marrows). I have been busy making chutneys and freezing brambles as the hedgerows fruits are now beginning to ripen, albeit slowly compared to last year's bumper harvest. There is nowhere near as much available as last year probably due to the lack of sunshine and they are lacking sweetness but mixed with apple they will make good winter puddings. Oddly enough last year was not good for sloes but this year they seem to be much more in evidence so I shall be making sloe gin before too long.

After something over a month without a telephone and really bad broadband connection we are now back online. Am engineer arrived at 8 o'clock yesterday morning and spent the whole day until 5.30pm working on the problem and we now have an internet speed way beyond anything we have ever been led to believe was possible here. After almost two years of persistent difficulties with phones and internet it is amazing to have both working so efficiently and it is all down to the terrier-like determination of the engineer to get the whole thing fixed once and for all, thank you Saul!

We have had two more cattle identified as reactors to the TB test and they went off to slaughter last week. We will have another test in two months time and so the saga goes on. We will continue to be under restrictions until we get two clear tests, so this situation will run well into the new year. The restrictions mean we cannot sell any cattle meaning we will have to keep all our bull calves which normally were sold to be reared elswhere. Hopefully by the time we have reared them to a saleable size as beef animals we will be free of the restrictions.

The swallows are still with us though I guess they wil be heading south before too long. There is a definite chill in the air now and the the leaves are beginning to show signs of golden hues. I saw two herons at one of the ponds this morning who were interupted in their frog fishing by the dogs and took off up into the air with their strange long-legged slow flight and drifted off towards the river where they would be undisturbed by lolloping labradors.