Tuesday 11 October 2022

Autumn Fruits & Autumn Calving

We are having some glorious autumnnal weather here in west Wales. Once the early morning mist in the valley has lifted we are treated to blue skies and clear sunshine with that indefinable scent of autumn pervading the air. On the farm the Farmer has been busy gathering the apple harvest and making many gallons of delicious juice that is frozen to see us through the winter. it has been a very good year for apples with heavy crops eveywhere. A number of neighbours have been bringing their apples up to the farm for pressing which the Farmer does free of any charge and provides a service for all those people who do not have any means of storage for their fruit. As well as the prolific apple crop the season is seeing a huge quantity hazelnuts which I have gathered. There are also masses of acorns and beech mast neither of which we can make use of, and the hawthorn trees are glowing with their rich red haws. The trees are still in leaf though the colours are beginning to change and the ground is increasingly littered with fallen leaves. This time of year is when we are are in the full throes of calving and the Farmer is kept busy each morning & evening feeding the steadily growing numbers of calves. We have been using sexed-semen in the AI (artificial insemination) programme and the results ahve been almost 100% successful in giving us heifer calves...I say almost 100% succesful in that we have had one bull calf! We are milking about 80 cows at present and the new heifer calves will be be reared as 'followers' to join the herd in about two years time. As always in farming the long view is taken.
Although the summer is well over Elder Son has been out again this week making silage for a neighbour and though it was only a small number of bales off a rather wet field it is additional fodder for the winter.

Friday 9 September 2022

Memories of Queen Elizabeth 11

The nation, indeed, the whole world, is in mourning for HM the Queen who died yesterday. It is rather wonderful how deeply loved she was and this may be in part due to the fact that many of us have never known a time without her being at the helm and of course for the steadfastness and dignity with which she carried out her duty. There is genuine affection and grief being expressed by multitudes of people all around the globe, everyone from political leaders to the humblest members of the public has something to say about a woman who has been a fixture in all our lives for 70 years. I saw her several times, once as a small child in Cardiff when the royal yacht Britannia was in port and my father somehow had got tickets for us as a family to go to the docks to see the Queen & Prince Philip come in a very shiny black car to meet the ship and go aboard for the next stage of whatever journey they were on. My main memory is of a smiling policeman ushering us to a good vantage place to see them arrive & the Queen and Prince Philip waving to the crowds as the car drove through. The second time was many years later when the Farmer & I with Elder Son, then aged about a year, were up in a small Welsh market town, Llanidloes, deep in the hills of mid-Wales. We were walking along the main street of the town and suddenly realised there were barriers in the street and people gathering so we joined the small crowd and the next thing there was the Queen walking up the street wearing a bright red coat and white hat. It was very bizarre and the sense of excitement in this very small obscure market town was palpable. People were hanging out of windows above the shops and cheering and waving flags. I remember seeing very old farmers in the crowds wearing their best suits and war medals who had clearly come down from their isolated farms for this very special occasion. The Farmer held Elder Son up on his shoulders so he'd be able to say that he had seen the Queen when he was grown up...I must remind him of that story! Another occasion was when I happened to be in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Queen & the Duke of Edinburgh arrived at the Shakespeare Memorial theatre for what appeared to be very low-key visit. As far as I remember there were no great crowds and a minimal police presence. The Queen & the Duke both paused on the steps of the theatre and waved to the small crowd before going in. The Farmer is proud to say that he was the first Queen's Scout to come from Carmarthenshire and because of that he was invited to read the lesson at a special service in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Various members of my family have met the Queen and the now King Charles 111 from time to time and the collective memories are treasured. Long Live the King!

Thursday 1 September 2022

Third Cut Silage, Local Agricultural Show, Summer and Autumn Fruit Harvest

Summer is at an end and there is a distinct air of autumn now with the drop in temperature and the beginning of the leaves changing colour. The onset of the new season does not mean an end to our silage making however, there is still a lot of grass to cut and bring in. The re-growth since tha last cut has been good and is now ready. The picture shows the rake being taken along our farm lane to the fields following the mowers which have gone ahead and the rake will arrive in the fields to find the grass cut and lying waiting to be raked into swathes to be ready for the baler and wrapper. The Farmer and Sons are going to have few more long days before it is all done. Summer is now ending and it has been an amazing time, with glorious weather, perfect for the children off school and for holiday-makers. Here in west Wales we have been very fortunate in not suffering the drought conditions that have been affecting other parts of the country but we do appreciate how difficult it has been for farmers elsewhere...but the rain will come. Our local agricultural show is taking place this coming weekend and yesterday the Farmer was up on the show field helping with the preparations, putting up hurdles for pens for the sheep-showing and generally being busy. I have had to put my mind to what I shall be entering in the 'Domestic & Handicrafts Section'. I shall enter some baking, and jars of jam & jelly and possibly some floral arrangements such as an arrangement in a teacup and a teapot, fiddly little things that I quite enjoy doing, though I am not a skillled flower arranger! The Farmer will be entering some turned woodwork & maybe something in the home-brewed alchohol classes. As usual I have left it all to last minute, I should have started planning these things a couple of months ago as I know a lot of people do. In the end it's not so much about the competition as supporting the show which is right on our doorstep and involves a lot of effort by a small number of people. These events need to be supported otherwise they will just disappear, which would be great loss to agricultural communities all over the country.
Thanks to the wonderful summer the Farmer has had a very good season with the bees. He took extracted honey last week and so far we have had about 200lbs and there will be more to come though probably not quite such a quantity this late in the season. Apart from the honey bees enjoying the hot weather we have noticed many bumble bees busy working in the gardens and along the hedgerows as well as other pollinating insects making the tree canopy hum. The bramble harvest has been too and I have frozen many pounds as well making jam and jellies. We have also had a good crop of plums, again put in the freezer and made into plum & apple jelly which glows ruby-red in the jars. The next fruit to be harvested will be apples which the Farmer will use for cider and some will be frozen as juice. there is going to be glut of tomatoes any day now and so I need to plan what to do with them. We have good stock of chutneys so I think I will make sauces and passata. I do enjoy this time of year although keeping up with need to preserve all the fruit before it goes over can be quite a challenge and after all there is only so much jam or chutney needed.

Saturday 13 August 2022

Late Brood of Chicks, Summer

A few weeks ago the Farmer noticed that when shutting the hens up one night he was one short so naturally came to the conclusion that Charlie Fox had helped himself to quick snack, however last week what should appear but the missing speckedly hen proudly bringing a brood of ten chicks with her. Such a lovely surprise and so late in the season. They are all now ensconced safely in a run where they spend their days rootling through the grass and cheeping away to each other with Mother Hen quietly talking to them all the time. We have been experiencing very hot weather lately, summer as I remember it as a child. We are continually being fed scare stories of climate-change doom but while not a complete climate-change sceptic I do sometimes feel that there is something of an over-reaction. This is just summer as it should be. We here in west Wales are fortunate that we have a very high annual rainfall and here on the farm we have our own water supply. For people on mains water who are being told to be careful with their water usage at present it must be difficult as many area of Britain are now under water restrictions and hose-pipe bans are in force so many gardens will be suffering. That all said I think the weather is due to change next week and hopefully there will be some much-needed rain. Meanwhile we make the most of the summer by sitting in the garden under the shade of trees and taking the opportunity to do very little as it is too hot for most activity. Of course the cows are milked everyday and the usual farm routine continues but extra things are put on hold until it cools down. Our guests in the holiday cottage are enjoying the weather and spending long days on the lovely beaches athat are only a short drive away and come back reporting swimming in warm seas which is quite unusual for this part of the world!

Wednesday 3 August 2022

Summer Farming, Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, Second Homes

Over a month has gone by since my last post and now we are at the beginning of August and as is usual at this time year things have been very busy. The Farmer and Sons have of course been spending many long hours on tractors bringing in the silage crop and it is now all in and safely sheeted up ready for the winter. In the past weeks we, and the rest of the country have experienced very hot weather though we have been lucky here in the west as temperatures did not reach the heights felt in the south-east of England. It was still nonetheless very hot and much time was spent just sitting in the garden shade too lethargic to do much else. Simple meals of salads were prepared and laundry was done but the daughters-in-law and I found ourselves doing the minimum as regards any other domestic duties. The menfolk did suffer as they still had to work but as long as the air-con in the tractors kept going and they had large quantities of water with them they were okay on the whole. Now we have had several days of much needed rain and today is beautiful with sunshine and a light breeze. One of Wales' major cultural events is taking place this week, the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol (National Eisteddfod) which this year is being held at the small market town of Tregaron up in the Cambrian mountains about 30 miles from here. Each year the eistedddfod is held in a different location around Wales, altenating between north and south. An eisteddfod is a competitive festival of arts and performance that holds a special place in the culture of Wales. Eisteddfodau (the plural form) are held all over Wales culminating in the national event which attracts artists, poets and musicians from across the Welsh speaking world. The Farmer & I hope to go up later in the week to see friends competing in the choral competition and to experience the whole thing having not been before. The school summer holidays started three weeks ago and I'm pleased that I have bookings for the holiday cottage running into September. That said there are fewer visitors around this season and talking to a cafe-owner at the coast yesterday, business is very slow. It is probably due to the price of fuel and the general increase in the cost of living meaning people are thinking carefully about their holiday spending. Even people who own a property in Wales but live in England are thinking twice about the situation, especially as there is a very real problem in the small coastal villages where the majority of properties are not lived all year round. The hamlet we were in yesterday has about a dozen houses only two of which are lived in full time and in another very much larger village just down the coast there are only 6 are occupied full time. This is a situation replicated all around Wales, particularly of course on the coast and it means that the once thriving communities have been eroded, village schools close down, local shops and post offices shut as they cannot survive on the six weeks income brought by visitors in the summer. Also properties have been priced out of reach of local families who would like to stay in the villages where they grew up but cannot afford the properties coming onto the market. It is difficult situation and one that is seeing drastic action being taken by Welsh Government in the form of high council taxes on second homes. Some second home owners are now saying they will sell their holiday properties but the prices are still more than can be realised by local young families. It is going to be interesting watching how this will all play out.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Midsummer's Day, Summer Solstice

A glorious Midsummer's Day, west Wales at it's very best, flower-filled hedgerows, fields of sheep and cattle dozing in the sunshine, dusty lanes and roses in the gardens, all just lovely. While I am able to admire the glories of summer from the comfort of my garden and cool kitchen when the heat gets too much for my chilly northern spirit, the menfolk have been very busy in this wonderful weather taking tractors and kit around the parish making silage for the neighbours. Long hours again and heavy loads leaving in their wake fields mown to a paler shade of green after their lush rich grass has been taken away. The colour changes across the valley are beautiful as each farm works their fields in a ceaseless round and while everyone is doing the same job but at different times, the patterns of the patchwork move like a green-shaded kaleidoscope. The summer solstice is of course a milestone in the passage of the year and many people were allowed to gather at Stonehenge this year to see the rising of the sun this morning and there will have been gatherings at other important sites around the country where people have erected stones or built chambers to capture the magic of the rising of the summer sun on the longest day with bright blessings to all.
This is perfect weather for the bees and the Farmer has just gone to check them as at this time of day (mid-afternoon) they are out busily foraging so the hives are reasonably quiet and more accessible without the need to kit up in full bee-suit and gloves. If all goes well then we should have good crop of honey this year. Our bucolic pastoral life here seems a world away from the madness that is going on in the outside world with train strikes all over the country and travellers frustrated and angry at the disruption the strikes are causing. Without wanting to sound smug all I can say I'm glad we don't have to go too far from home these days.

Tuesday 14 June 2022

Sheep Shearing

The Farmer has been busy shearing the last of our few sheep. We have only 30-odd ewes these days and he tackles the shearing over a couple of days, pacing himself as it is is hard work. I used to help many years ago packing the fleeces but somehow have got out of the way of it more recently (a touch of sciatica doesn't help!!). It just happened that this year both the Sons were off the farm doing silage and digger work elswhere though Elder Son did come and help catch the ram and hold him, he is very big and extremely heavy to manhandle for shearing. As always the sheep are relieved to have their heavy coats removed as the weather is getting warmer. The effort that goes into producing wool is in no way echoed by the price we get for it. Last year we sent our wool in to British Wool and were paid somehwere in the region of £36 for the 81 kilos of wool and I doubt that this year's wool cheque will be much better. Is it worth the trouble of shearing, packing, transporting the wool sacks to the collection centre and then being charged for the collection? Perhaps we should just use the wool for mulching round our apple trees and in the veg. garden? On a more positive note we are now having some beautiful weather after some weeks of unseasonably cold and wet days. The countryside is looking stunning and the gardens are coming into their own. We have elder trees in full blossom at present, so pretty with their broad flat creamy clusters of tiny flowers. I have made elderflower cordial in previous years and neighbours make elderflower champagne which is very potent stuff but I will admit I don't like it very much. The Farmer who is going off all day on a tractor turning grass over 8o acres around the parish has just come in with the remark that I have company for the day in the form of a solitary newly-hatched chick. It is in a box here in the kitchen and is very, very vocal and the cause of much curiosity for my terrier who must be be kept well away from it as her natural instincts will get the better of her and it will be end of one chick. The Farmer had set up his incubator with a number of eggs in it but only the one hatchling has survived. These things happen but we'll do all we can to make sure the one lives on. Here is picture of my rather lovely lupins with their guardian Buddha.

Sunday 29 May 2022

Silage making past & present

After three days of hard work the first cut silage is now safely in and shrouded in it's plastic counterpane held down by hundreds of tyres (the photo below shows the clamp at the beginning of putting the tyres on) many tyres are to compress it over the next few months before the winter comes and the cows are in. So much preparation and anxiety goes into these three days and there will be at least two more sessions of the same as the summer progresses. We are at the mercy of the weather over which we have no control so when each cut is safely in the deep sighs of relief are palpable. In years past we used to have contractors come in to 'do the silage' with the Farmer and in those days they would stop for lunch and come into my kitchen for a full sit-down meal washed down with copious quantities of tea. These mealtimes were very cheerful affairs with the men discussing the progress of the harvest, gossiping and recollecting stories of the local characters and generally having a good social time. Much of the conversation would be conducted in Welsh interspersed with some fine Anglo-Saxon profanities accompanied by a slight apology to me as the only female in the room. We were one of the last farms in the area where the men got fed and they were always very appreciative with a particular fondness for home-made bread and fruitcake. After a mid afternoon break for tea & cake which I would take out to the silage pit in a large basket filled with thermos flasks and Tupperware boxes, everyone would sit on the grass for ten minutes of refreshment, again full of chat before continueing with the relays of grass-laden trailers. As they often worked on into the night, sometimes not finishing until 2 or 3 in the morning, I would leave a pile of sandwiches and the ubiquitous fruit-cake and, now I remember, ginger beer which they all loved, on the kitchen table while I went to bed. Nowadays there is no time for meal-breaks and so the social aspect of this time of year has largely disppeared which is very sad.

Friday 27 May 2022

Silage has begun, Summer visitors due

The menfolk have started this year's silage harvest at last. The weather has come right and so it's all out to get the grass cut, raked and brought in. The rather elegant piece of kit in the photograph is the rake which opens out its spidery arms and then spins at great rate to bring the mown grass into rows ready for the forage wagon to gather it up to be brough to farm where it will be put into a huge concrete clamp. It is work that despite the huge and expensive machinery of modern times still involves long hard hours and the Farmer & the Sons will be at it probably well into the night and that includes having Elder Son having to stop to do the evening milking. No matter what else is going on milking has to be done twice a day and if we can get enough man-power the silage can carry on uninterupted while one member of the team has to leave to get the cows in and milked. Fortunately we have enough drivers to enable this to happen fairly seamlessly.
It is a marvellous time of year, the men love it, working with all this amazing machinery that is prepared so carefully in the weeks leading up to the first mowing as breakdowns mean loss of time & money and so all that can be is done to ensure everything runs smoothly. I spend much time making sandwiches and ensuring there is a plentiful supply of fruitcake for the Farmers's packed lunches as the daily routine falls by the wayside for these few days. Some days I may have to take food out to the fields if they are particularly far away across the valley and so picnics in the field looking across the valley are a good break. The valley looks wonderful at this time of year with the patchwork of fields visible for miles in their varied shades of green interspersed with the darker greens of the hedges and small woodlands. The wood are lovely now with the fresh green of beech leaves comong out, the clouds may-blossom looking like meringues amid the golden green of oak leaves emerging. The first of our summer visitors arrive tomorrow in the holiday cottage and with any luck this gogeous weather will hold and they will experience west Wales at its very best. I must now go and do the finishing touches to the cottage, last minute vacuuming & dusting and tomorrow I will put flowers and a plate of home-made chocolate brownies on the table in readiness for their arrival.

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Maytime flowers, 'Postal Bakes' by Lucy Burton,

The flowers at this time of year are glorious, the field margins, hedge-banks and woods are overflowing with tall stately bluebells,the froth of Queen Anne's lace & vivid pink campion while at ground level there are violets, buttery celandines, sweet smiling 'daisies pied', lady's smock and gorgeous golden buttercups. While the weather is still very changeable this year and quite chilly, when the sun does shine we always say that May is just the best of months in which to see the countryside. This past weekend a party was held here for various family members to celebrate a couple of 'significant' birthdays which actually occurred back in the depths of January, so the event was postponed to when the weather was more conducive to a gathering in the gardens. We had perfect weather and so the guests, many of whom had come down from London, were able to spend the weekend sitting in a lovely garden drinking Pimms. All very civilised. It was good to see people from 'away' and to have conversations that were not predominantly about farming or the neighbours! One of the guests has just had a book published in the last week and I have no hesitation is giving it plug here. It is called 'Postal Bakes' by Lucy Burton and is a compilation of recipes for what are nowadays called 'traybakes' which can be sent to friends and family through the post. Lucy had run a business pre-pandemic baking for events and weddings but of course Covid saw that come to an abrupt halt, so she devised away of baking brownies, cakes & cookies to be sent out in the mail. It proved very successful and as result has now produced her lovely book full of decadent and scrumptious recipes (available from Waterstones, Amazon and other booksellers) and I hope it does well for her. We have had some rain in the past day or so so the grass will growing apace and hopefully the Farmer & Sons will be able to make a start on the silage soon.

Friday 13 May 2022

Country Cats, Wild ducks, Silage

This is Rosie, one of our unofficial 'farm cats'. She is very beautiful, aloof and has good line in feline-glare, but is a useful mouser and patrols her territory seeing off intruders as we hear at night when the cat-erwauling (sorry, couldn't resist) echoes around the yards as she repels the invaders. We do have another cat on the farm, a very handsome ginger tom called Llew, (Welsh for lion) and he is my grand-daughter's familiar & is a much more people-orientated cat than Rosie. There are of course, feral cats in the valley though they are rarely seen, but they will take their chances where they can to hunt or scavenge. The hours of darkness are quite noisy at this time of year what with the owls who live close by the buildings and float out to hunt once night falls, the foxes barking in the woods and fighting, or maybe courting, cats. Occasionally this cacophony disturbs the farm dogs, though they have learned not to take too much notice. When light begins to glimmer we hear the Canada geese flying down the valley to the river and the mallard ducks start quacking down on the pond. As soon as there is clear light the little birds begin the dawn chorus with the thrushes, blackbirds and robins being most vocal followed by the soft tones of the wood-pigeons and so the outside sound-track to the day is set...with Radio 3 indoors, they do complement each other quite well. Our 'pet' mallards are doing well with Mother Duck bringing them up the house each day where they run about like little clockwork balls of fluff. Our kitchen door is stable style with the top half open in fine weather and I have to make sure the lower half of the door is firmly shut otherwise I will find the ducklings milling about my feet. They have no fear of us which is fine while they are so tiny but once they become fuly grown it can be bit of a problem as they will sit outside the door in a flock of about 12 birds and as soon as I set foot outside follow me around in a slightly menacing manner, also they do make a mess with their somewhat uncontrolled toilet habits. All that said as The Farmer says, it is quite a privilege to have what are in truth, wild birds, so relaxed with us.
On the farm all is busy preparing for first cut silage. A new silage pit is almost completed and will be ready for the first trailer loads of grass to be tipped in the next week or so. The weather is being kind to us at present with warm damp days and sunshine, with the occasional shower of rain which is very welcome after the very dry April we experienced. We all enjoy the start of the silage season, there is something very exciting about the seeing the huge tractors and their equally large attached kit setting off for the first circuit of a field of thick grass and knowing that we have embarked on the all important gathering of winter fodder.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

Spring Ducklings, Farming Worries

To our great delight one of our female mallards arrived outside the house with her new brood of 12 ducklings. They had been spotted out on the pond the night before and we were anxious about their survival 'in the wild' but with mama duck being proud to show them off (sorry to be so anthropomorphic!) and clearly remembering from the past two years that a safe haven is to be found with people, she brought them up to our front yard and we were able to escort them all into a large pen on lovely lush grass in the orchard near the house. They are so pretty and a joy to watch as they grow over the next few weeks. Once they are big enough to fend for themselves we will put them back out on the pond,meanwhile they are safe in their netted enclosure from marauding corvids and any passing fox seeing a chance for a quick snack.
The orchards on the farm are starting their glorious display of blossom with the cherries out first closely followed by the apple treescoming in stages. Tt is a wonderful sight and uplifts everyone's spirits especially combined with the cacophany of birdsong that surrounds us at this time of year.The birds are very busy building nests in corners and crevices and calling each other from the tree tops or having squabbles over territory, the robins are particularly prone to that, while the collared doves coo seductively from the ash trees that are outside my kitchen. Many of the trees that surround the house are thick with ivy which is providing cover for the nests of finches, tree-creepers, blue-tits and thrushes.
On the farm we are coming to the end of lambing and most of the cattle are now out, yesterday having been spent loading trailers with young stock to take to the land we have across valley where they will graze for the summer on lovely fresh new grass. The dairy cows have been out for a number weeks by now and are doing well. However the milk industry is facing huge pressures at the moment and there is real risk of UK milk production dropping in the 2022/23 season due to input costs and farmers having to make major decisions on the purchasing of fertiliser and feed (although we are now coming to the time of year when cows are out grazing). Fertiliser is now £1,000 a tonne having gone up 2,000% in a year. This is due to global factors, not least the war in Ukraine. It is worrying as a number of dairy farmers are seriously considering giving up. The price paid to the farmer needs to be increased and the cost of a litre of milk in the shops will have to go up. We are living in a time of agricultural revolution and many people are talking of reducing their stock numbers and certainly cutting back on inessential expenditures. However there is much positive thinking going on and a feeling that there are going to be many opportunities for farmers to become even more innovative and adaptable than ever. After a superb display of daffodils this year they have now finished and I am enjoying my pots of tulips, not in the profusion that we had of narcissi but very pleasing nonetheless.

Thursday 14 April 2022

Springtime, Farming, Dogs

This year spring is struggling to get going somewhat in terms of the weather. We are getting a mixture of chilly days with frosts overnight and then a spell of warmer grey days with a hint of damp in the air and overcast skies but hrough it all the flowers are in their annual loop and we are enjoying the cowslips which I am endeavouring to establish in my new garden and along the hedgebanks violets are turning their faces to the sky along with the tiny wild strawberry flowers. The blackthorn is beginning to drape its veils of lacy white blossom over the hedges and we are seeing hints of green coming with the hawthorn. The birds are singing madly and loudly and seem undettered by the vagaries of the weather, the mating season is on and nothing stands in its way. We are still lambing though the end is in sight and the ewes and lambs out in the fields add their calls to the general spring cacophony. Field work is being done with a large field having been ploughed and harrowed last week and then spread with lime and sown with peas and oats for silage later in the year. As the Farmer pointed out recently, farmers have been tilling the land for millenia and he feels it is privilege to be part of that continuum no matter how difficult it is at times. The survival of the traditional family farm is the backbone of British agriculture and we will carry on despite the politicians, foody-extremists with their somewhat wacky and unrealistic agendas. For too long now politicians have taken the view that food security is not important and now with the war in Ukraine and the rising prices of fuel we cannot rely on importing the bulk of our food supplies. The consumer may have to change their eating and shopping habits and as I have said before 'Eat local, eat British' will have to become the norm rather than just a promotional slogan.
My little Jack Russell terrier, Dottie is feeling very sorry for herself after having a contretemps with our sheepdog, Judy yesterday. She is suffering for a few gashes and bruises after a squabble over a scrap of food. An unpleasant but minor incident resulting in a nasty wound that the Farmer stitched up very neatly and without Dottie making too much complaint. It is amazing how our dogs have such absolute trust in the Farmer who very calmly carefully tends to them that they will tolerate being stitched up. Dottie is ten years old and this fight has left her rather subdued but being a feisty character she will bounce back in a day or so, meanwhile she is curled up in her bed here in the kitchen

Thursday 24 March 2022

Joyful Spring, Food shortages and the need for farmers, 'Greenwashing'

A glorious day of sunshine, blue skies, birds singing and daffodils in golden hosts all around the house and farm gardens and standing in a guard of honour all the way up our drive. A sure way to cheer everyone up despite the horrors being perpetrated in Ukraine about which one feels so helpless. However, it is no use us sitting around being deeply sad and angry, that helps no-one. The best thing we can do is get on with our lives and contribute in what ever small way to improving the world. If that means planting flowers to make people happy then so be it. I think with the threatened food shortages that may well be coming in the next year or so then many more people will be starting to grow their own fruit and vegetables which can only be a good thing. The Farmer has said he will be doubling the amount of potatoes he usually grows and I fully expect him to be growing more than usual of almost everything else.
With the sanctions on Russia and the difficulties over fuel supplies everthing has gone up in price and farms are struggling with a 200% hike in the price of fertilisers (although as organic farmers we do not use chemical fertilisers) which is going to cause real problems for many farmers. Whether this will be a good thing for organic farming is hard to say. I suspect that all farming methods will be utilised to their full extent as the farmers of Britain rise to the challenge of producing food for the nation whether the government sees the need or not. With the Irish government urging its farmers to increase production by 30% surely our government must see that it needs to address the issue sooner rather than later. Britain's farmers are ready to do whatever is needed and it will be interesting to see that suddenly we become an important part of the nation once again having spent so many years being regarded as unnecessary park-keepers when it was thought that we could import everything required...how incredibly short-sighted and stupid were those politicians who believed that! The mantra has now become 'buy local, buy British'. There is growing debate over the question of environmental recovery projects and the need to grow food. This is highlighted by the current trend for good agricultural land being planted up with trees which is now being looked at with sceptism by non-farming people (farmers have always questioned the practice). While there is a need for tree-planting the need to be able to grow food is greater...the two aims can run concurrently but there has to be common sense. Plant the areas that cannot grow crops or grass for livestock, not fine flat fields with good soil. Much of the problem has come about by the carbon-off-setting companies buying tracts of land, particularly here in Wales. Family farms are bought by London-based companies at prices that make the farms unaffordable by local people, with a view to taking to planting trees (often unsuitable non-native species)to sequester carbon and then selling off carbon credits to their shareholders for profit. This is a very lucrative business and is used to 'greenwash' their unsustainable activities. Meanwhile local farming families cannot buy land and buildings in which to live and raise their families and GROW FOOD.

Friday 11 March 2022

First Lambs, Dog Memorial

Well, on a blustery, wet morning we have had our first lambs born, a fine set of strong twins. It's always a good feeling when the first lambs are healthy and 'good doers'. The ewe is contented and has taken to the lambs without any trouble, so a good start.
On my way up to the lambing shed I pass what is known to us as the 'Dog Stone'. This is a large cut pillar of sandstone that we erected many years ago to commemorate our dogs after the death of one called Ted who died following an accident. We realised at the time that we had had many dogs over the years, (most of whom died of natural causes, mainly old age though life as a farm dog does carry certain risks) and felt they deserved a memorial. They give us such devoted service and work hard for ten or more years, so the Dog Stone was placed where we walk past it all the time and near where several of the dear dogs are buried. Each year the narcissi that I planted at its foot come up in a glorious display which on grey days like today are so cheerful and along with the lambs, are a sure sign that spring is in full swing. While our lives here on the farm carry on with the seasonal round keeping us busy we cannot ignore what is going on in the rest of the world, especially in regards to Ukraine. The horrors being launched upon the innocent civilians of that country are unspeakable and while we can donate to the Red Cross and other aid agencies and charities it seems very inadequate but one can only hope that the politicians can bring about an end to the crisis before too long. The bravery and courage of the Ukrainian people has been extraordinary.

Tuesday 8 March 2022

Getting ready for lambing, Food Security, Old Ecclesiastical Buildings

The ewes have been brought into the large polytunnel prior to the start of lambing which is any time in the next few days. The polytunnel is an ideal lambing shed, light and airy and big enough to have pens erected in one half leaving the rest of the tunnel for the sheep to roam loose. It also opens at one end out into the orchard so once the lambs are big enough they and their mothers can go out onto fresh grass. This is such good time of the year with the arrival of lambs and we are only lambing about 50 yewes nowaday so it is not to onerous though there will no doubt be the usual struggles to keep lambs alive whose mothers reject them or don't have any milk and will have to be bottle fed but hopefully they will be the exception. March is proving to be an interesting month, we have had torrential rain storms and yet the last three or four days have bright, dry, very cold and beautiful though I think more rain is on its way. Still, what is bit of rain and mud compared with what is going on in the outside world! The ongoing tragedy of Ukraine is constantly in our thoughts and that situation, though so far away in terms of miles is affecting us here on the farm as the price of diesel and oil shoots up. Feedstuffs are becoming more expensive almost daily and there is no guarantee of a continued supply. The Ukrainian farmers are unable to get seed to sow for the harvest in what is the breadbasket of Europe, even if they can get to their fields safely. There will almost certainly be shortages of wheat, sunflower seeds and other crops that are needed to feed both people and livestock. It is interesting that the Irish government already is urging its farmers to increase production while the UK government is saying very little, if anything about food security and the need to start growing more. As farmers we will all step up to the mark when required, we just need the word. The cost of farm diesel to run the tractors is going up and domestically I think we are all going to have to turn our heating down a couple of degrees to conserve oil and justify the use of the car as the price at the garage pumps increases. This is all rather a severe approach to the problem at present but needs to be considered. On a more cheerful note the Farmer and I had to journey to Brecon at the weekend, about 60 miles from here for a family celebration and our route took us over the mountains of southern mid-Wales, The day was clear and bright and the scenery in that part of the country is spectcular with vast views across a huge reservoir and empty landscapes with very little habitation until one drops down into the more fertile areas where there are old farms tucked into hillsides sheltering from the elements as they have done for centuries. As well as old farmsteads occasionally one comes across remote chapels built in the 18th century by non-conformist groups who needed places of worship. One of these is a place called Soar-y-Mynydd which is a beautiful, plain whitewashed building set about with beech trees in the middle of nowhere. There are no houses nearby or even many farms though there are signs of old abandoned steadings from long ago. But even so, when it was built ther local population could not have numbered many. Remarkably, services are still held there from time to time. Many of the old chapels in Wales are no longer in use and those that are have dwindling congregations as do many of the churches. Sometimes these old building are sold off and converted into remarkable and quirky homes which seems to me to be a good use for these redundant buildings.

Thursday 3 March 2022

Lovely Weather for Ducks

Once again we are having lovely weather for ducks! I seem to spend a lot of time describing the weather but that is because our weather here is so changeable... we have weather rather than climate! On Monday it was glorious sunshine with a brisk wind and a decided chill in the air but since then it has been warm and very wet, endless rain causing so much of the farm to be muddy and unpleasant underfoot. Even the dogs tend to tiptoe around and skirt the puddles. Judy the sheepdog with her long coat & feathery tail is caked in mud. Despite the rain the birds are singing gaily and seem to be unpeturbed by the constant downpours, we see them carrying nesting materials and I have just seen a jackdaw checking out the old nesting holes in the ancient gardener's shed across the yard from my kitchen window. While life here is going along its usual seasonal path we are not unaware of the horrors being endured by the people of Ukraine. In spite of the grimness of the news reports there are are moments of cheer such the footage of farmers towing away Russian military hardware behind their tractors, 'liberating' them presumably for use by Ukrainian forces. One of the major problems faced by us all if the conflict continues further into the spring, is that Ukranian farmers will not be able to get their seeds sown for the vast wheat harvest that we are hugely dependent on for flour and sunflower seeds/oil etc. For us living in west Wales, on the very edge of the western world, Ukraine seems a very long way off but the impact of this war will be felt by all of us. Already we are having price increases in the fuel which is so essential to us for running tractors and machinery involved in food production. Food prices will increase but now is surely the right time for our government to take a serious look at increasing food production in Britain so that we are more able to feed ourselves without being dependent on imported foodstuff. Vegetables and meat we can produce at home so easily and rather then exporting lamb and then importing similar quantities. Why can't we supply the British market with home-grown meat? The fashionable thinking at present is to give massive funding to 're-wilding ' projects i.e. taking land out of food production and 'returning it to nature'. What seems to be forgotten is that people need to be fed. In recent reports and studies to introduce new farming subsidies it seems that food is not considered a 'public good' which most farmers find an very difficult concept to accept. Surely food production is more important than giving greater access to land for people walking their dogs!

Friday 25 February 2022

Spring is making her presence known with the rapidly emerging snowdrops and daffodils appearing in great numbers all around the farm and gardens. We have sunshine and blue sky to day and I've been able to hang out the laundry for the first time this year, always a heartening thing. The Farmer & I have been away for couple of days with the Grandchildren. We took them to stay in a cottage in a tiny village on the coast of Pembrokeshire. The property was only 100 yards from the beach and so despite the strong winds we spent a lot of time walking along the blustery sands and along the spectacular coast path. Windy walks are a very good way of wearing out energetic children we find! And they are very happy to be blown about and watching the sea in its tumult as it crashes onto the rocks and cliffs. The cottage had no tv., dvd player or radio so evenings were spent playing games and reading and it cannot be but good for children to have time away from media entertainment. They didn't complain at all about it which is encouraging, it means they are capable of being entertained in the old-fashioned ways, games , books and conversation.
After the tremendous storms that battered the British Isles last weekend we are finding just how many trees came down around the farm and the Farmer is having to plan how to clear them up and get them to his sawmill to be planked. As well as cutting them up for timber there will be a vast amount of firewood, which will have to be processed, but we can never have too much firewood with six wood-burning stoves between the three households on the farm.