Monday, 21 September 2015

Coldest, Wettest, Slowest, Latest?

Bramble still tiny and hard-green on 21st Sept.
I don't know if this summer will go on record as the worst, but it is certainly our worst since we have been here, admittedly only 4 summers so far. We have seen figures for July which rated it coldest/wettest for 50 years but not so far for August which was also pretty dismal. Everyone is amazed at the lateness of crops and we have certainly had more failures and almost-certain-failures than we would welcome in a season.

This yellow Kniphofia, glorious last year, is barely
showing colour on 21st Sept 2015.
We are managing to keep ourselves fed on some crops - mange tout, black kale, chard, broad beans, spuds, toms and onions but we have managed to get through the whole season (despite some repeat sowings and plantings) without producing a single French bean, spring onion, courgette, squash or 'normal' pea (as opposed to mange tout). No French bean got beyond the 'germinate and the slugs will graze it off' stage. Crops like red beet are so far behind that they sit there in their row like little red pea-sized pellets with a few leaves up to about 9 inches. Red beet is such a large-seeded plant (OK, seed 'clusters' technically) that it never fails.

The bees were still active today in the lovely afternoon sunshine
The slugs left me only one Purple-sprouting plant and that, stressed by having few leaves left, started sprouting when only a few inches tall and gave us one measly sprout to share. In previous posts I have said that apart from a crab apple tree looking promising and a tree load of plums stolen by magpies, the apple and pear harvest will be very poor. I worry that the impressive stands of parsnip and carrot foliage may have nothing hidden under them. The bramble, which would normally be dripping at this time of year with a few over-ripe berries which you missed when you picked them over several times in early September, are still mainly hard green and tiny. They are so backward that I wonder will they miss altogether this year and just abort these unfinished trusses as part of autumn die-back. Do they do that? I have never seen it before.

Starting to load the log-store.
We have come by a couple of wine making kits entitled "Hedgerow Wine" which have all the yeast, food, grape concentrate and other goodies you'd need to get some blackberry wine going as I did many many times in my youth (memories of 26 1-gallon demijohns arrayed on shelving around my bedroom all at various stages of completion. It was quite a hobby). We were hoping to put these to good use with our normal bucket loads of blackberries from nearby fields. I think that boat may have sailed. We may have to use frozen currants from earlier in the year or frozen blackberries from 2014.

Tomato chilli jam labelled with JM's excellent charity labels.
The picture on them shows our house in c1900.
Ah well, swings and round-abouts. I had to nip down to our lamb-butcher and collect our meat from the twin ewe lambs Thelma and Louise. The deal there is that you can watch the lads butcher them up so that you can choose whether you want ribs or racks, gigot chops or full shoulder, legs cut in half and so on. They also bag up, weigh and label all the cuts as if they were going to over-the-counter customers. These two animals were possibly a bit smaller than the (store) lambs we have done in the past, coming in with carcass weights of around 43 lbs but we knew that and we needed that to happen for two reasons.

Lamb to go? Thelma (left) and Louise (right) ready for
delivery to the Silverwoods.
First we could not pile the 'fast crunch' in to them at 1 kg per lamb per day as you would store lambs, as we didn't want the ewes putting on too much weight (it affects fertility). Second, we needed them out of here before we took delivery of the ram, so they went at just over 5 months. Still, they were good looking carcasses and I am sure the recipients will be delighted with them. These two are off to Silverwood's today with Liz on a quick over-night visit. A definite success in our 'harvest' terms to counter all the fails. These were only our 2nd and 3rd ever lambs born and raised here, ear-tag numbers 002 and 003.

Dragonfly wing floating on the pond.
While I was in the butcher's I got talking to some lovely people, fellow small-holders. When I arrived they were actually in front of me in the queue, getting 2 of their own lambs processed and we got chatting about smallholdings, sheep, pigs and so on. When we had dropped our lambs off we had come home via Sue's to collect Rambo and, en route had pulled over to allow a car coming the other way to pass on the narrow road.

Tom the turkey has nearly finished growing his new tail back. 
We spotted that the car was towing a trailer with an eye-catching sheep-cage on it built from pallets tied together; quite a neat job! Liz joked that they were probably also headed for the butcher as there would not be much else they'd be doing on a Monday morning, that early, moving sheep about. Talking to these people and finding that they lived in a similar direction I wondered out loud whether this pallet-cage might have been them. Yep! That was 'us' they said and explained that their neighbour had sorted them out in an emergency with a replacement stock-trailer that morning. Impressive 'recycling' we thought. We chatted on some more about how you 'borrow' rams and about sheep health issues and ended up swapping phone numbers; we all think that you cannot have too many possible helpers and ways to share costs (e.g. for fluke doses which only come in bottles suitable for big flocks and you end up throwing 9/10 of it away when it goes out of date).

Rambo drives Dylan (right) away from Lily (left).
And finally on the good news front we have seen Rambo today for the first time paying some focused attention to one of our ewes, Lily. Liz noticed him getting very close behind her and wondered if he might be about to "start" (this is a family show, we'll leave the graphic stories to the David Cameron followers!). I did see him have a quick try-out but also spend some time driving away ram-lamb Dylan, so I suppose I had better record today's date in the calendar. He should definitely be full-on soon, if not actually tonight. Lily seems to be standing for him too, which is surely a good sign.

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