Monday 30 December 2019
Christmas has been lovely despite both the Farmer and I having had heavy colds during the preceding couple of weeks which only cleared by Christmas Eve. However, we struggled on and had our usual quiet Christmas Day going to walk along wide beaches and watch the waves of a reasonably calm sea whilst enjoying smoked salmon sandwiches. We run away from the full full family gathering on the Day but this is made up for by the extended family descending on us on Boxing Day by which time the grandchildren have calmed down a bit. We were fifteeen for the day, a group covering four generations. Some of the family are on holiday in New Zealand and others in Australia and Canada for the festive season but with the wonders of modern technology communication was easy and cheerful.
Christmas here is a mixture of tradition and mainly secular activity though the Farmer and I do play a lot of wonderful baroque Christmas music and make a point of listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College Chapel, Cambridge whilst decorating the Christmas tree...that is definitely a family tradition, decorations go up on Christmas Eve and not before. The house is rich in the scents of baking mince-pies, wood-smoke, spices in mulled wine, the resin of the tree and over Christmas week we have a stream of visitors so there is the heady scent of freshly ground coffee to add to the catalogue of festive aromas. The grandchildren came in to help decorate the tree and had wonderful time rummaging through my boxes of decorations, many of which are over a 100 years old having belonged to the Farmer's grandmother. We have a considerable collection of beautiful items as Father Christmas alway brought a new decoration for our boys when they were little as well as the ones that date back to my childhood and those that I have been unable to resist buying, such as the glass flying geese,the brass sea-shells, painted glass birds and a magnificent and noble glass stag with gilded antlers. Each year I have great fun finding a beautiful tree decoration for the grandchildren. This year they were given a gleaming green crocodile-king wearing a splendid crown and a gilded zebra also crwoned...zany but beatiful.
The major decsion I referred to earlier is that the Farmer & I have decided the time has come for us to move out of the main farmhouse to allow Elder Son and his family to move in giving them much needed extra space. We shall swap houses essentially so we are moving into the very quirky little two bedroom cottage, a former coach-house, while they will come to enjoy the spacious four-bedroom main house. It is all rather exciting thought the prospect of having to pack up everything to move across the yard is daunting. The Farmer has lived in this house for 60 years so it is a big decision to move out though the little house is going to be lovely and we will will put our mark on it quite quickly. January, February & March are going to be very busy! We hope to have the moves done by the beginning of April.
The week before Christmas we lost our dear old sheep-dog Mollie. She was thirteen years old and had been fine until just a couple of months ago when she began tp slowed down and just gradually faded away. We miss her as does our post-lady who always had a treat for her (and the all the other dogs here!) each morning when she delivered the mail, but the young dog, Judy is coming on well though she is not as good a working dog as Mollie, just a bit too flighty but ever trying to please.
All Very Best Wishes for 2020
Blwyddyn Newydd Hapus
Monday 21 October 2019
The cows are in their cubicle sheds the work each morning has increased with scraping the sheds out, putting down down fresh bedding and bringing in silage to the feeders.
Last week the Farmer & I had a couple of days away to attend the AGM of our milk buying company,OMSCO, the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-operative(). We travelled up to the the Midlands staying a night in Herefordshire with family before heading off to a hotel near Kenilworth to join a group of about a hundred fellow OMSCO members. It was a very stimulating and interesting couple of days. In addition to it being the annual AGM it was also celebration of the 25th anniversary of the founding of OMSCO by Sally Bagnall who was present. Once the business of the AGM was dealt with we had presentations from a number of guest speakers including Henry Dimbleby talking about his role in National Food Strategy with DEFRA & Cynthia Guven, the Agricultural Counselor at the USDA in London(United States Dept. of Agriculture) and representative from the American organic company Organic Valley. All the speakers were very positive about the role of organic farming in the future of British food production and in ongoing trade deals with both Europe and the US(whatever the outcome of Brexit negotiations!) All this serious stuff was fascinating but we had some wonderful light relief provided by the after-dinner speaker Miles Jupp the actor and broadcaster, who was hilarious and had the audience of cynical farmers roaring with laughter. We came away from the conference with much food for thought on the future of British farming, most of it positive though with a few concerns over international trade and food standards but on the whole organic milk production seems secure.
Two years ago the Farmer was asked to submit some honey samples to a Ph.D. research project on pollen DNA. Today we had the results back and very interesting they are too. The sample was taken from honey extracted in July 2017 and the results are showing that the plant species identified by the pollen analysis as being most evident in our honey were Rubus sp. or blackberry, Trifolium repens or White Clover, Brassica spp. or Cruciferous Vegetables, Cabbages, Mustard or Rape and Rosa spp. or roses. The last two species were a very small percentage while the blackberry provide 70% of the plant DNA found present and the in the overall analysis of the samples taken from all over Britain the picture is the same. So, bramble thickets and hedges are more vital to the bees than we had realised.
We have a very good honey crop this year and the Farmer has been busy making new hives in preparation for next year. We have about ten hives at present and hope to go up to twenty or so. This will involve a lot more active bee-keeping but the Farmer is happy to be a bee-keeper rather than just someone who keeps bees...there is fine distinction between the two!
Tuesday 1 October 2019
It is another very wet morning and when it is not actually raining everything is dripping and we have mud again where last week we had dust. The wet weather has seen the end of the blackberries, they are now soggy anf tasteless after what has been a very good season. My freeezer is full of boxes of brambles and my larder shelves have a goodly stock of jam and jellies after many afternoons spent walking along our hedgerows with a basket and the dogs. They love the blackberries too and eat them off the fruiting bramble cables at the bottom of the hedges.
Tuesday 3 September 2019
Our lovely guests meant that we made the effort to show off our beautiful countryside and we took trips down to Pembrokeshire to walk the coast path and have beach picnics with a soupcon of culture provided by a visit to St. David's cathedral which was as wonderful as ever.
In fact we visited St. David's twice in a week (which was no hardship) as we took the grandchildren away for a couple of days to a cottage near Fishguard and took them to the cathedral for the first time. H. aged six was very taken with the 'stone men', the effigies of knights and bishops that are such a feature of the cathedral. We were there on Bank Holiday Monday which is something we would normally avoid like the plague but it turned out to be a very good day for visiting with the children as the bell tower was open and they and the Farmer were able to go up the tower and see and hear the bells. The Farmer had been a bell-ringer in his youth and so was able to talk knowledgably to them about it all. The highlight of the days away with small people was the boat trip around Ramsey Island which took place on a day of flat seas and glorious sunshine...I had been dreading the possibility of having to cope with sea-sick children, but all was well... and we saw many heavily pregnant seals lounging hugely in tiny coves around the island. They are due to pup any time now. Ramsey Island is an RSPB reserve and we saw gannets, fulmers, gulls and terns. We have taken various of the boat trips over the years and they are always wonderful whether they are in steel hulled boats or inflatable RHIBs and going around Ramsey or further out to Grassholm to see the gannetry. On occasion we have seen risso dolphins, porpoise, minke whales, puffins, kittiwakes, and of course many seals and it always a thrill.
With the hint of autumn now in the air we have started calving and with 80 cows to calve Elder Son has called on a cousin to come to stay for a month to help out. She has come down from Herefordshire with two horses in tow which is lovely for the children as she will give them riding lessons while she is here when she is not busy feeding calves, checking the ladies-in-waiting (on horseback) and generally being useful.
Wednesday 3 July 2019
While for many people the glorious weather we are having means lazing around in the garden enjoying the sun for farmers it brings a period of intensive activity involving big complicated machinery and long hours spent in fields of grass. Mowers and balers all around the country are pressed into service and there are pleasing numbers of bales in the fields waiting to be taken in.
The Farmer and both Sons have been out for many days and sometimes well into the night mowing, tedding, raking and baling silage not just for ourselves but for a number of other farms in the district. That said Younger Son managed to take a couple of days off to go to the Glastonbury Festival even though it meant him coming home one day to bale grass and then returning to Somerset to see the last day of the festival. But the pressure is on to get as much grass processed before it has dried too much in the heat to become hay rather than silage or before the weather breaks.
This morning the Farmer and I did our annual run to deliver our wool sacks to the lorry from the Welsh Wool Board which came to our local town for the collection of wool sacks from all the sheep farmers in this area. It is a very efficient service with everyone given a time to arrive and the sacks are loaded onto the large lorry and drag by a tractor with fork lifts where they are expertly stacked and roped for their journey to the wool depot in Brecon.
This summer is giving us spectacular display of roses and as I write I am looking out onto a fountain of Kiftsgate and Rosa Mundi tumbling over the wall at the back of the house while in the front garden the old rose Wiily Lobb is rampaging through the hedge in a profusion of deep purple that will eventually fade toa soft grey before the petals fall in a confetti onto the grass.
The dogs in their black coats find this weather very trying and so spend much of the day in the shade but when I take them for a walk in late afternoon or early evening all lassitude is forgotten and they leap and bound in the cooling air with much joyousness before calming down to sit and look at the view.
Wednesday 29 May 2019
Younger Son's wedding went off without a hitch on a beautiful May afternoon in a lovely sunken garden,(a former slurry pit!) at a local 'wedding venue' only a couple of miles from home. It was a very pretty country wedding with lots of flowers decorating the wonderful oaken pavilion where the ceremony was held and along the walk up through a meadow to a garlanded arch leading to a vast triple tipi for the reception.The tipi had been beautifully decorated with flowers and bunting and was very pretty. Flowers were dispalyed in milk churns and old glass milk bottles and the wedding favours for guests were tiny jars of honey from our bees, which everyone thought was a lovely touch. The tipi held the 120 guests easily with plenty of space for the evening guests as well which brought the numbers up to about 200. It was a wonderful day, everyone very happy and a great mix of people from farmers (the groom) to pharmacists (the bride) and all professions in between. Guests had come from all over the country, Yorkshire, Herefordshire, Dorset, Cambridgeshire, Nottingham, London and even Ireland, which was wonderful as west Wales is a long way from almost everywhere! There was also a goodly number of local friends and everyone had great time. (www.welshgreenweddings.co.uk)
May has been a busy month for the Farmer and his bees. He has had five swarms and with collecting boxes out around the neighbourhood and beyond is hoping for more. The most difficult one lodged itself in between some silage bales and the past few days has seen the Farmer trying his best to encourage them into a hive but with little success so far. Honey has already been extracted and which is very early and it looks as though it is going to be good season.
'A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
But a swarm in July is not worth a fly.'
Silage was done the week after the wedding despite Younger Son having gone away on a short honeymoon. It was one of the earliest cuts we have ever taken and with the rain that we have had over the last few days there will be a good second crop before too long.
The countryside is looking wonderful as always at this time of year. The hedgerows are full of flowers and many of our hedges have tall elegant laburnum trees which are all their glory of hanging golden tresses. It has been a magnificent year for the May blossom, the trees thick with flowers like clotted cream and the bluebells have been astounding in their blue-ness. We recently drove past an ancient oak woodland spreading for a couple of miles and the whole way there was a thick ocean of intense madonna blue such as I have not seen before, a truly wondrous sight.
The birds are never quiet with the squabbling sparrows in the hedges & the chittering of the aerobatic swallows as they harvest the flying insects to feed their broods in the eaves of the house. Sadly this year the house martins have not returned after their first sojourn here in over 30 years last summer but the swifts are back. We have been fortunate to have nuthatches nest in a crevice in the stonework of one of our buildings and have been watching them returning to feed their young who bravely poke their heads out to watch for their meal arriving. In another building which has a row of pigeon holes, there is family of jackdaws have taken up residence and again there is always frantic noise from the hatchlings when they realise their parents have returned home.
It is very touching when we have visitors who came as children to the holiday cottage returning after many years with their own children. Their memories of childhood holidays spent here are so vivid and apparently important that they wish their offspring to experience what they had. We must be getting something right. Very often the fondest memories are of the dogs and watching the cows being milked. Of course when it has been a gap of over ten years the dogs will have changed but the new ones are just as friendly and endearing as those remembered and are quite happy to be petted and fussed over as much their predecessors to the delight of the children.
Happy children = happy parents = happy holidays = happy memories.
Thursday 25 April 2019
With the fine weather of recent days we even made our first cut of silage, the earliest we have ever done it. A number of other farms in the area also took advantage of the sunshine and did the same. Next month will see the proper start to the silage season and we, and everybody else will be flat out mowing and baling, into the early hours very often, long days and long nights of hard work hoping the weather will hold good for us all.
In two weeks time Younger Son gets married and so we are sprucing things up in readiness for an invasion of friends and family for a long weekend of jollity. The wedding itself is being held not on the farm but a couple of miles up the road at the Ceridwen Centre which is run by friends of ours who specialise in 'green weddings' and do it superbly well (). In preparation for the influx of visitors over three or four days, we are busy mowing lawns to within an inch of their lives, tidying up herbaceous borders, planting up pots with colourful flowers, touching up paint-work and I'm even hoping that the shabbiest of our spare bedrooms will be re-decorated in time (not by me, thank goodness...I have a marvellous painter-and-decorator who is very patient with my somewhat last minute requests for his services!) I'm now off to buy paint!
Tuesday 5 March 2019
We returned to the farm to find that lambing has begun. We didn't have a great start with some lambs not surviving and a dead ewe but things have now improved and last night we had a set of lovely strong triplets to add to the tally. We are lambing only about 30 ewes so every loss is significant but now things are looking up and hopefully we will not have too many difficulties from now on. Fortunatley the weather is reasonable despite the occasional rain shower so the ewes and lambs can go out once tha lambs are a couple of days old.
With March of course come the daffodils and we have so many all around the farm, of many different varieties from tiny little tete-a-tete and my favourite Tenby daffodils the little 'wild' ones to the rather vulgar flamboyant golden trumpets that herald in the spring. With strong winds we have had over the last couple of days a number of the daffies don't d=survive th buffetting so I go round each morning gathering the fallen flowers and so so I have jugs of glorious golden bouquets all through the house.
Wednesday 13 February 2019
Today we have our Soil Association inspection. This means that our organic integrity is examined with a fine-toothed comb and every minute detail of our farming practice is scrutinised and logged. The Farmer has to produce a paper trail of everything that occurs on the farm from the monthly milk cheque to rodent control. It is right that there should be rigorous checking of all that happens here and on every other farm in the country but every now and then one feels that the nit-picking detail goes a bit far but if it means we have our organic licence renewed for another year then we will co-operate down to the last No Smoking sign and invoice for cattle feed. It is not only the Soil Association certification that is being checked but also our Red Tractor assurance (www.redtractor.org.uk)which is the farm and food assurance scheme that promotes and regulates food quality in the UK...'Traceable, Safe & Farmed with Care'.
Monday 4 February 2019
A recent addition to the amenities we offer with the holiday cottage has been a wood-fired hot tub (see previous posts)and it has proved very popular with our guests since it went in in at the end of last summer. Until now guests have treated it with respect and have used it with practical common sense. However, in the last week we had some less considerate guests who when very drunk abused the facility by burning coal in the stove despite the plentiful supply of logs that we provide, and getting it so hot that the metal fire box has distorted and scorched the wooden panel that separates the fire-box from the sitting area. They also burned any wooden item they could find including the stirrer paddle. Things at some point must have got scarily out of hand and the fire extinguisher & fire blanket provided seem to have been added to the conflagration...all that remains of them are the blackened burnt-out canister of the extinguisher! All this went on at night long after the Farmer & I had gone to bed so we were unaware of this awful activity until the following day. On discovering what had been going on I was speechless! When the perpetrators were confronted with the results of their activities they were very contrite and apologetic and have since replaced the fire extinguisher, the fire blanket and the paddle (with the promise of a replacement fire-box, but on that we will wait and see). Fortunately the fire-box was not as badly damaged as we first thought and is still usable. In the twenty-five or so years that we have been letting the cottage we have never had such a bad scenario (including the state of the cottage itself)...young men away from home with too much drink, a very bad combination.
Last week the one remaining bank in our local, bustling small market town closed it's doors for ever leaving us and many hundreds of other rural people with a 30+ mile round trip to the nearest bank of any kind. The local community is furious, frustrated and helpless in the face of bureaucratic decisions being made by faceless people in London who have no understanding of how rural communities work and a total disregard for the distances now having to be travelled in order to do our basic banking. No thought has been given to people reliant on limited public transport, older peole who not have the use of a computer for online banking and for all of us who have used the banks on a weekly basis for so many years...apparently one of the reasons given for closure was insufficient footfall. Well, I have rarely been in the bank without having to wait in a queue no matter what day of the week, not just on market day. The town will suffer badly. A butcher acquaintance of ours found that his takings dropped by 40% when all the banks in his village had closed. People will go elswhere to do their banking and by default, their shopping.
Monday 21 January 2019
With the grandchildren having gone bcack to school the farm has settled back into its usual routine and everyone is busy each morning with the chores of feeding and bedding down the cattle before getting on with much needed jobs such as fencing and keeping up with the supply of firewood. In addition to these essential jobs the Farmer is finding time to build a shepherd's hut for our daughter-in-law who has has decided to replace her canvas-covered gypsy wagon for something that will give a longer letting season. The shepherd's hut will be delightful and alongside the cabin which contains a small kitchen/sitting-room and bathroom gives opportunity for a truly rustic retreat overlooking our beautiful valley(www.oldoakgypsywagon.co.uk).
Out in the wider world we have to endure the shambles that is Brexit. The majority of Britain's farmers voted to leave the EU and now we are going to face some of the biggest challenges to food production in this country since the second world war. Some politicians say that a no-deal Brexit will be a disaster for farming but appparently opinion is divided amongst those MPs with agricutural constituencies. Whatever the outcome of it all we farmers will just keep our heads down and carry on doing what we do best which is producing food in times of uncertainty, in other words carrying on as normal. After all we farmers are very adaptable to circumstances, whether it be being held hostage by the weather or squabbling politicians.