Friday 21 April 2017

A frosting, and Jakie plays dead........

Had some beans growing in pots in our mini greenhouse, but they were not looking happy so I put them outside yesterday, and did not cover them up. Thought that they would succumb to the cold / frost but this morning they are standing very upright like bold little soldiers.
....but this morning they aren't, because we had a severe overnight frost which left an overlay of whiteness across the fields. It is now the afternoon of the day, and yesterday's little soldiers are looking very sick and wounded.

Ah well, always lessons to be learned, this one being that we need to make some more covers on the raised beds, like this one......

...... which is working very well. I did have difficulty in lifting the panels on and off at first, but with a bit of encouragement my arm muscles are now able to rise to the challenge. In fact all of me is rising to the challenge of being a trainee market gardener, and I am finding a strength and energy that I thought had slipped away from me when I was not well last year.
You will probably have to enlarge the above photo now, because I have a sunbed, and it is up, and I have laid on it, and it is in the background, behind the plastic covered raised bed, the very same plastic I took and folded away the other day because it looked untidy. However, because the sunbed is white it got troubled by flies, as indeed I did when I laid on that very same sunbed. So there I was, having a doze, meanwhile the flies were buzzing me, the dogs were giving me kisses in the hope that I would make a fuss of them, which they could do because I was at the height they could get to, and yet still I managed to visit dreamland. It is surprising what one can do if one puts one's mind to it!
So the sunbed is now folded away until I get time to make a dark cover for it. Not to worry, at least we have the table and chairs to sit out on. Meanwhile, Lester has finished fencing most of the trees so the sheep are free to wander round again, and now he is working on the watering system for the Veg Plots.
I continue to tend the seeds, and have found a delight in starting to plant those raised beds. And did you know that sheep have dreams too.......This morning Lester say Jacob, our ram, lying with his back legs dangling out of the doorway of the sheep barn, and with his head all bend backwards in what looked like a very awkward angle, just as he would do if he had crumpled himself down in a heap on the floor. He looked dead, that is what Lester thought. So Lester went to ask him if he was indeed dead, and no, he wasn't, because he suddenly sprang up, all of a daze after having obviously been somewhere else in himself. So, for today, Jakie is alive and well.
Am off to talk to the poorly beans to see if I can encourage them to keep with life, but I fear that a few will not as the frost has given them quite a singe.
Bye for now,

Tuesday 18 April 2017

The bread dough that rose up and over......

Message to self:  
You must remember to use the timer on your desk when  you have things heating / cooking on the stove otherwise you will likely end up with another mess like this. When will you learn that you get so absorbed in what you are working at on at the computer that time flies by, and what you think is only five minutes is actually half an hour.  Meanwhile you think that you are waiting for the pot / cake/ etc to cook but what you are actually doing is letting whatever it is you are waiting for to overcook / burn.
Which is why you have a timer on your desk.  
So this sorry looking pot was supposed to be yesterday's bread.
I have got into the habit of speeding up the rising of the bread by putting the pot of dough  on a cake rack which is then rested over a pan of warm water. It is an efficient method of getting the dough to rise, although if the water is too hot it will start cooking the bottom of the dough, but not to worry, all I do is scrape off the partially cooked bits, split the dough into the two bread tins, and carry on.
However, the other day I got involved with writing the previous blog.. The words were flowing, and it was easy to write. Sometimes I hit word blocks and the blog will then feel stilted when I read it through, but the other day I was rolling along, so I kept going as indeed the bread did, rising up and rising up until it fell over the sides of the pot.
Not to worry, I was able to salvage enough dough to make one small loaf!
Message to self:
It is best not to eat toast which has runny jam on it at the same time as trying to finish off a blog, because it is in the nature of runny jam to like to travel off the slice of toast it is supposed to stay put on, which is your fingers first, then on to the keys of your computer keyboard. Stickiness will then happen. Licking your fingers will not help. So best to eat the toast while you are reading blogs, and not writing them!
 Meanwhile, we 'lost' the sheep the other day, but not to worry, they were having adventures in the woodland. As for the three cows, Bonny is milking down now, so soon we shall have to buy in milk because there is no room in the freezer to keep a stock of our own frozen milk. She is in calf now, but it will be at least six months before she will give us milk again. We don't know why she is lessening her milk yield to us as she should have kept going for another five months or so. She is even being unhelpful about moving into her milking corner, so perhaps she is just getting fed up with having her udders messed about with.
Onwards, then, into another day. Oh I forgot to mention that Lester had a big fright yesterday. Opened the barn doors, and nearly trod on a humungously big long snake sunning itself on the concrete step. It slid away though, but into a mess of nettles and brambles which are currently growing at the back of the house, which was one of my ongoing projects to get rid off, but I think not now. I think that me, my scythe, and my secateurs, will remain away from that spot!
So off out into my day I go,
think I might scythe down the nettles which are vigorously growing along the River Path so I can get to the River Beach without getting stung to pieces. This is the roaming territory of the sheep but they are over in the Side Field for the moment while Lester continues the Save The Fruit Trees Project. so me and the Rottweiller Girls may as well take the opportunity to get those nettles cut down.
So saying bye for now,

Saturday 15 April 2017

Seedlings, weedlings, naughty sheep, and pristine spoons....

Throwing a few seeds in to some pots is not a good idea for trainee market gardeners....there has to be order, otherwise there can be no progress forward, this I have learnt. For instance, that every tray of plantings has to be labelled. This I have done. I used plastic spoons for the labels, and what a jolly look it gave to the rows of trays. However, ........... what I did not know was that sunlight fades the marker pen ink used to write on the spoons. So........ what did I plant in which pots? ...this, then,   became the panic of the moment when I went to have a look at our pots to see if the seeds planted in them had suddenly magicked themselves into  six inch high plantlings, but no, most had not even woken up yet...... and all the label spoons were still sparkling white but minus any writing on them.

Not to worry, though, because I write down everything I do in a note book, and because I had started off organised I was able to label the pots again. The cardboard strips I cut up for labels look nowhere near as smart as those white spoons though, and of course the cardboard will go soggy quite quickly if I can remember to keep everything watered.

It feels an awesome task to organise what to grow, how much to grow, and when to grow. Growing for ourselves is different to growing to sell, this I am learning.

One of the things I have come to understand is that seeds are not inanimate objects that somehow grow into plants.... if you are lucky. Each day I go out to our little raised bed greenhouse to say 'hello' and 'good morning' and 'how are you doing?' to the seedlings, and 'come along, wakey up' to the seeds still asleep. And I am coming to understand the magic of new life, especially the climbing beans (of which  there are 100 pots so far) which are starting to show their shoulders as their  seed bodies wake up and thrust their first roots down into the compost. I am aware of the surge of new life. As I say, it is magic.

I have always had an affinity towards growing things but they have always been away from me. Having the raised beds close to the house has helped me keep connected to our growing plants. At the moment the courtyard is looking quite empty of things but I anticipate that soon, within a matter of weeks, every bit of it that can be used for pots and things will indeed be used. And I love that the tractors are also in the courtyard, and that bits of hay and straw are drifting all over the ground. It gives a very country, folky, look to the place, and is very much in keeping with our rural way of life.

A quick word about the sheep..... in previous blogs I have been oh so pleased about having them roaming around, but it was a grim faced Lester who came into the Music Room the other night after his early evening walk with the dogs. I think I have mentioned before that he is having to put a fence around all of the fruit trees because the sheep have taken a liking to eating the bark of some of those trees, the plums and apples in particular. There are about seventy trees of varying ages to do. Some will be left to their own chances, but most have been done, except for the line of fruit trees running parallel to the lane and the back of the veg plots.

So it came to be a hot afternoon, and we were having a musical jamming session with the original members of our band, The Bollards. Time passed, and soon the music session came to an end. Meanwhile, the sheep were doing their usual walk up and down and around, but unsupervised by us because of the distraction of playing music. This, then, was the afternoon when our best, and gloriously full blossomed, apple tree received a severe munching of its bark from the sheep. It was in that last line of unfenced trees, and was the best tree on the farm. Lester was not happy.

What to do.............

1) Shoot all the sheep. But this thought only lasted a split second.
2) Sell all the sheep, and just raise pigs, rabbits and chickens for our supply of meat. But this thought only lasted a few minutes as we realised that we would miss having sheep here.
3) Persevere with getting the trees fenced, but time is racing on and the veg paddocks need to be tilled ready for the coming growing season, and the potatoes need planting as well as the first of the green beans. Plus there is the never ending Chicken Hut Project, plus the Produce Hut Project, plus the Greenhouse Project which all need to get done before the end of 2020 2017.

So what we did was this: we halved the walking area of the sheep, so that now they have the River Path, the River Beach, and the Far Field to roam in, but they are banned from the Back Field  which is where the Veg Plots, the Pig Paddocks, and  the majority of the fruit trees are, including the badly damaged apple tree. This has now been severely pruned in the hopes that it will decide to keep on growing and not give up on life.

There are still fruit trees along the River Path, but Lester has now double fenced them, and soon they will have a bucket of cow poo each, into which will be planted fennel seeds. The idea about planting fennel came to Lester after he saw a lamb try to eat a sprig of leaf from a robust fennel plant which had self seeded itself close to the roots of a young plum tree. The lamb launched himself towards a fennel leaf poking through the fencing wire of the tree, but did a sharp withdrawal as his mouth engaged with the delicious tang of the plant. It is hoped that by growing fennel round each tree will act as a natural deterrent to any other wandering mouths.

Over the next few weeks, when time permits, we shall continue fencing the rest of the trees so that the sheep can come back into that area to graze.

So a solution has been found. We keep the sheep, have forgiven them because they are only being themselves, and have gained time in which to get the other projects on the way. For myself, I am plodding on with getting the seeds sown, but all in pots except for the potatoes and green beans which have been planted straight into the ground.

The Seed Planting Project.

Us gardeners know all about the weedlings, that they tend to outpace the speed at which the veg seedlings grow. That if the weather is too cold, then the weedlings will still romp away with joyful vigour, but the veg seeds will stay asleep. Of course they will wake up eventually, but by then they will have to battle with the entrenched weeds, and us gardeners will join in with that battle by having to do the unlovely task of weeding.'s the plan. All of the seeds are to be sown in pots first, then grown to a good size, then planted out into the Veg Plots. This is making a lot of work now, but we think that it will save a lot of time later as it will be easier to hoe around the veg plants because we can see them, rather than leaving everything to grow into a jumble of weedlings and seedlings.

This would be a simple method to use if we were growing just for ourselves, but we are also needing to think about the produce required for the Market Garden Project. We are also mindful about the need to supply our cows with fresh greens as often as we can.

And so now I have emptied my head of things to write about, so I shall wander off into my day, and say bye for now!


Thursday 6 April 2017

Morning break, me with a cup of coffee and a scone sitting in the courtyard,
and the sheep gathering for their mid morning sit down under the oak tree.
Lester, meanwhile, is out fencing.
But it is not perimeter fencing he is doing.... it is tree fencing.
Now this is a task which is an annoyance for him because it is taking time away from other things, plus it is an unexpected extra expense.
It is the lambs which are doing the damage.  They fill up on grass, have a drink of mum's milk, then have an investigation of this and that, and unfortunately this is including nibbles of bark from the fruit trees, and the leaves of any  fruiting shrubs within their reach, so Lester is having to put wire cages round all the trees and shrubs to protect them.
As I say, this is an irritation to us, but on the whole the sheep are doing  grand job with keeping the place tidy, although I did notice that the wild herbs I was intending to harvest this year are also getting eaten, but on balance this is not a bad thing as the pleasure of seeing the flock walk about the farm is greater than the loss of that particular harvest.
We have also noticed that the sheep have become a family rather than a collection of individual animals and will wait for each other when they are trekking from one part of the farm to the other.
So....... they start the morning off by the oak tree, then start moving along the woodland by the pig paddocks, perhaps pausing to graze in the unfenced and uncultivated Veg Plot 4, then moving onwards to the bridge over the river, whereupon they turn left along the fenced perimeter of Veg Plot 3. Turning left again, they continue wandering and grazing along the fenced perimeters of Veg Plots 3, 2, and 1. Through the open gate and into the Chicken Run, which is minus chickens at the moment, so is still green with growing things.
Then out of the Chicken Run and along the path between Veg Plot 1 and the back of the house.
Turning right, along the side of the Half Barn and the Oak tree.
Pause at tree. Have a rest.
Then maybe go round the previous walk again,
or continue along the path between the woodland and the Main Field.
Maybe make a left turn half way to munch the grass growing on the river path, and maybe even to go on to the river beach to see what there is to eat there, and perhaps to have a drink from the river.
Back to the path by the Main Field, continuing along to the Far Field, where  they will eat their fill. If it is a hot day they will spend the afternoon in the shady far corner of the field.
When it gets cooler they will start retracing their steps until they finally end up by the oak tree, waiting for Lester to call them in to their paddock for the night.
If the weather is cool, then they might do the entire route several times during the day.
On the whole, I think that those sheep are having a grand life, one which is full of interest and good food, including morsels of our trees if they can get to them.
But we still keep in mind that they are part of our meat supply, so while we enjoy seeing their activities close up we are mindful of why we keep them.
They are part of the farm, but we do not see them as pets, but respect them for the meat they give us and for that we are glad that we are able to give as good a life as we can to them.
Meanwhile, we continue on with the Farm Shop Project,
..... feel like spinning round in circles for most of the time as we wrestle with what to do first, but we are making headway of sorts, which is why it is good to stop and watch the sheep and lambs going about their daily activities!
Off to see what the day is doing...
Bye for now,