Monday 28 September 2015

...and Three Meteors and a Bat!

Picture by Leah Burgess, used with permission.
One thing that surprises and delights us about our move to rural Ireland (from urban Kent) is the clear, unpolluted air and almost complete absence of light pollution so that our night skies are more spectacular than we even dreamed of in Kent. Better too than I remember from anywhere else I have lived. I was used to us being able to see Orion and The Plough if we were lucky, but now we can see so many gazillions of smaller stars on a clear night that it can actually be difficult to pick out those well known constellations. We can see the Milky Way from here, a feature I think I never saw in Kent.

Spider web in the Bramley tree catching some evening sun.
These 'Nights of a Million Stars' (as we call them) used to be a feature of our nights spent in the caravan during the house build; we'd wander out of the caravan to use phones or for a 'comfort stop' , to have our bonfires or to get out of the way while meals were being cleared away or the furniture re-arranged from seats into beds. To start with we had no electricity, so 'light' was candles or oil lamps in the caravan, the 'grounds' were black-dark and the stars massed above just shouted out to be gazed at in wonder.

Quince tree doing very well. No fruit yet but plenty of growth.
So our minds are always alert for interesting 'space' and astronomy stories to follow up - internet posts about the International Space Station, interesting planetary conjunctions, the solar eclipse earlier in the year (OK, that was a daytime one), unusually large or bright moons, comets, the Northern Lights and so on. We are always game for a middle-of-the-night alarm call and a dressing-gown clad wander round the dark front garden with binoculars, cameras and a mug of coffee. This week's full Lunar Eclipse coincident with the moon being close to Earth (a "super moon") was right up our street. The promise of clear, high-pressure skies was the icing on the cake.

'Feste' chops smeared with mushed up garlic, lemon juice and salt.
It did not disappoint. The alarm woke me at 03:00 as the proper moon light was just about to fail, shoved aside by the Earth's shadow. Liz had actually stayed awake reading, so was already 'up'. We watched while the light winked out and the blood-red colour washed across the moon. We both tried to take pictures but neither of us have a camera capable of such a shot (Liz only has her phone and with my trusty Canon EOS trying to die on me, I am on a tiny Sony Cybershot - it works OK on the 'holiday snaps' pics in this blog but correctly illuminating the moon and zooming in the 100x you'd need are way beyond it). I am grateful to Leah Burgess who gave me permission to use her composite multi-exposure shot at the top of this post.

The heather is well out in the Kiltybranks bog dog-walk
where the 2 new wind turbines now add to the skyline.
We sat and watched the action for a good 45 minutes including gazing around at all the other stars and the Milky Way and had the added bonus of three separate meteors streak through the field of view and I saw a bat. We were joking that we only needed the ISS to wander over, an owl to hoot or the young fox I saw on the lawn the previous night to stroll through, and we would have the complete night-shift 'Bingo' card filled in. The blood-red thing was due to go on for a couple of hours and we soon decided that a dog-patrol and a cup of coffee would see us well enough eclipsed and we went off to bed happy star-gazers all. I did look out a few hours later and was happy to see that the moon was filling back up with 'proper' light as the earth's shadow moved away and the eclipse was done for 18 years or so.

My plucky little 'Stihl 025' chain saw gets its big-boy pants
 on to start slicing up the fallen black spruce. 
Meanwhile life is turning quite autumnal here and I have been getting into some serious logging and started preparing to 'winterise' the bees. With the log store over half full now of the ash I coppiced out of the pig-run and the rubbish and old fence posts gathered from all about the place as we clear more and more 'jungle', I needed to move on to the big 55' black spruce which came down in a gale last November. This was a daunting task as my little Stihl chainsaw would struggle to cut a tree this thick and I was looking at several hours of sweaty, back-aching work just to slice it up, never mind splitting it with the axe. These trees have many side branches, so many of the rounds you slice out of the trunk are badly knotted and can be hard to split.

The 'cavalry' made short work of the rest of the bole - this took
my helper about 45 minutes with his bigger saw.
Fortunately I had got talking to a very helpful lad down our lane who has a selection of bigger saws and had agreed to come and help. Unfortunately, I knew, he had ricked his back a week or so ago and might not be available, so I had decided to make a start. I did this yesterday (Sunday) determined to run the saw out of all the petrol I had on site and just see how I got on. That proved to be about an hour and a half and I sliced no more than a dozen rounds; about 12 feet of tree.

53 tree-rings in this bottom slice which is 2 feet diameter
 and 5' 7" circumference. That makes Vendor Anna's estimate
 of a 1963 planting date just about spot on.
I was delighted today, then, when my man breezed in and hefted a 20 inch cut machine out of his car boot, fired it up and started slicing my tree like a hot knife cutting through butter. He happily gave me a running commentary at every stop (for fuel etc) about how to keep a saw in good nick, what was a good saw in the first place, where to have them serviced and what might be wrong with mine or my technique. It took him all of about 45 minutes to slice up the remaining 30-40 feet of tree including, obviously, the way thicker stuff at the bottom. The final slice before the root-splay was 2 feet diameter and 5 feet 7 inches circumference and the 53 tree rings make Vendor Anna's 1963 planting date estimate (by her Dad when she was a little girl) pretty much spot on. Either way it's quite a growth rate for little saplings put in to make a wind break round the veg patch! As an added bonus (again) the lad also offered to take my own saw away and give it a "proper" sharpen.

The oiled wooden square frame here is an 'eke'. The cut out
square of house insulating foam will slot in to make a cosy
warm layer of 'loft insulation' for the hive
Finally, those bees. They are out among the heather at the moment which is in flower all around the bogs and will soon move on to ivy as that comes into flower. Both these honeys are difficult for the honey-producing bee keeper; the heather honey sets as a 'gel' like tomato ketchup which will not flow and has to be pressed out of the comb with, for example, a cider press. Technically it is "thixotrophic". The ivy honey sets like rock! Bee keepers will generally whip off the honey stores they intend to harvest by about now before the heather honey starts and move hives back 'home' from the hills, starting to snug them down for winter.

Young 'Solo' at 3 months starts copying Dad's tail-up,
wings down display style. 
Readers who were with me in April will recall that we lost our last year colony because, we believe, we left them too much space within the hive and the little young colony could not keep the cluster warm enough. They died of hypothermia. We are determined that this will not happen again. We have already removed the spare (empty) 'super' so there is no fresh air above the cluster and we know they have filled the frames to all 4 corners of the brood box and first super. I am going to provide them with a 3 inch thick sheet of insulating foam  as 'loft-lining' and slide the varroa-mite counting board into the slot in their floor to reduce drafts from the bottom.

.Buildering' again and my trusty pointy-shovel
seemed to enjoy the feel of the familiar '804'
gravel we moved so much of during our own
building adventures.
This is all a bit radical and the bees would not be impressed by suddenly being made THAT warm if the sun was still beating down, but if I wait till the current burst of lovely autumn sunny weather is done it should all work and the bees should have no trouble keeping their interior at the required 34ºC. I will take all this extra protection off again come April or so when the temperatures come back up towards 14ºC outside and the bees start exploring again. The count-board also gives me a chance at this late stage to double check the varroa infestation level, which was so wonderfully low when I checked in summer.

Friday 25 September 2015

Of Projects Past

Sausage pies - sausage meat from our pigs and suet crust
from our lamb suet. 
A bit of our Kent life came back to greet us today when friends Mark and Cathy dropped by on a whistle stop tour of the Republic seeking out cousins and old family roots in Bray, Ballinagare and Tallow (Co.Waterford - so far south you can only go further south by hopping into Co. Cork). These guys are real friends from my 'Cambria' days, the time spent as an active volunteer on the famous Thames Sailing Barge while she was being restored in Faversham.

More baking for the visit. We like to lay out a good 'spread'.
My recent life seems to have been cobbled together as a series of long projects and readers who have been with me for 'ever' will recall the rebuild on the 1961 Citroën 2CV car which had been a twin-towns gift from the French town of La Chapelle d'Armentieres to the Kent town of Birchington (see posts around May 19th 2009). This was followed by my involvement in the Cambria project (posts such as 21 June 2008 and Oct 31 2007). This was all followed, of course, by the biggest project of all, our move here, restoration of the house (Dec 2011 to May 2012) and then creation of the small holding.

Tea Brack. Moist and delicious
Back in the 2CV days I knew little of Thames barges except that there was an old boat yard in my town (Faversham), through which I walked my dogs and where they seemed to be always doing up these "big old boats" - the yard was always strewn with equipment, ropes, folded red-ochre sails and an old crane, and echoed with banging and hammering, the scream of power-planes and drills and the bangs of 'maul' hammers. Then my aul' Mum came to visit and came round with me on the walk. She stopped dead as we turned the corner onto Standard Quay and whooped with delight "Thames BARGES!" Growing up in Bromley by Bow (London) in the 30s and 40s she had seen these lovely craft moving up and down the London River in trade (they were still trading up to the 60's as they could move 170+ tonnes of cargo about with a crew of just 2 men which kept them economic until well into the age of steam, though they stopped making new ones in the 30s).

There will be 'tay' - Mark and Cathy getting ready to tuck in.
My Mum's enthusiasm piqued my own interest in them and I started reading and researching the type. By coincidence the group looking after the decrepit rotting hulk of Cambria had just secured a £900,000 Lottery grant to completely rebuild her in Faversham led by project manager Will Collard and Master Shipwright Tim Goldsack but seeking volunteers to help with unskilled stuff and showing the public round. I had read about it in the local paper and decided to volunteer my services but did not know how, so I kept walking the dogs and knew that eventually I would see someone.

Bearing gifts including these US Deep-South food packets and
rigging parts - see main story.
Step forward, then, Mark, who visited us today. He was the first man I saw, tiptoe-ing through the boatyard junk in a big yellow hi-viz coat. He'd been involved in Cambria for 15 years already by then, when they had no money and used to try to keep out the weather of the beloved wreck using bits of old plank, chains, tarp and concrete. "Excuse Me!" (I might have said) "Are you to do with this barge and how can I get involved?" The rest is history, covered fairly well in this blog - I was put to work in a gang of superb volunteers (including Cathy), a very happy and productive, enthusiastic group working regularly right through to launch day and beyond. I even kept running the website and the Cambria blog on moving to Ireland, right up to this year.

All good things must end, though, and the distance and lack of real contact meant it became harder and harder to keep the website fresh and to keep track of new stories and the website has realistically been superceded by the involvement of the still hands-on, closer members of the team who mainly use Facebook to publish stories and pics of their adventures. Good luck to them, then and I have parked up the old blog that was so much part of the actual restoration process (visit and hover cursor over the 'News' word in the black bar, then click on either 'blog' or 'blog archive'. The restoration took 3 years or so between 2007 and 2010)

So, Mark and Cathy came and enjoyed a bit of a cold buffet. We like to put on a good spread - Liz says she likes the table to say words like 'plenty' and 'ample', though not actually 'groaning'! They also had the farm tour. They are readers of the blog and they both said they were delighted to see the place for real that they had only ever seen in pics. Mark's camera hit over-drive at one stage shooting pics of Towser at a top window, then geese on the lawn and Rambo the ram coming up to the field gate to say 'Hello'. They came bearing gifts too - they had offered as they were coming over from Kent, to bring anything we might need so, among the generous bounty were some Zatarain's (US Deep South) food mixes which we used to enjoy buying from the excellent world-food/deli in Faversham, 'Macknades' (but can't buy over here). Also some yacht-rigging gear which I need to haul the bee swarm lure box into my tree next year; living by the Kent coast they have much better access to yachting chandlers type shops than we do in Roscommon! Thanks very much for all this 'stuff' Mark and Cathy. Safe journey back to your hotel tonight and then on back to the UK tomorrow. We have high pressure weather just now and not a breath of wind, so you should at least get calm seas for your crossing.

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.

Friday 18 September 2015

Bespoke Livestockman's Dressing Gown?

Deefer at 9
Happy Birthday to my 'Number 1 Daughter', Deefer Dawg after whom this blog is named, 9 years old on Thursday 17th. She had a day of extra fusses and all three dogs got raw pork bones which pass for doggie Birthday Cake in this family. Happy Birthday too, to her litter mates, bro' Archie and sis' Ellie-Bezz who are both back in Kent and still in contact via their owners on Facebook. I don't know if Arch and Ellie get bones but if not, then they are missing out.

Our 'alpha' rooster, The Lieutenant with a Buff hen
Our bones were of course those from recent pig butchery of our Berkshires. I cut the shoulder prime-joints through close to the spine and ribcage so that all possible meat stays wrapped round the shoulder blade and we cook them bone-in. The few front-most ribs and associated vertebrae are our dog bones. I can remember watching the meat factory lads cutting up the pork for a friend of ours a few years back and using a hydraulic puller to rip the shoulder blade out of the joint.

The new flock line-up in the East Field
You'll be pleased to know that the new ram (Rambo) has settled in well with our ewes and our existing young ram-lamb, Dylan. Within hours he was 'with' them, very much part of the flock and very much taking his duties responsibly in terms of 'marshall and protect'. When I walk the dogs around outside their fence, the ewes will usuallly look up and get a bit nervous, though they are well used to the dogs by now, but Rambo grunts and moves to defend the ewes, placing his body squarely between the dogs and his women and even coming to the fence to glare at the dogs.

The turkeys have now taught the chickens to steal catfood
through the kitchen window.
Of course, he is really quite tame and as soft as grease, so he also wanders over to any passing human to get his head stroked and his chin petted. As to his real job, we have seen him schmoozing the girls up, sniffing their vulvae and so on, but so far we have seen no actual mounting. I have read that the presence of the ram will bring the girls into season but I don't recall how long this might take. I will have to do some research. Also, worryingly, Myfanwy is still very occasionally allowing Dylan to suckle,and I think that this will stop her coming on heat. Ah well, we have the lend of Rambo for as long as it takes so we are still hopeful of a good result.

All taken! 4 hens in 4 nestboxes. 
On that one, I find I have been too clever, using the word 'tup' and 'tupping' for all this maleness. It is the word the UK sheep farmers use, so it is in our sheep 'bible' Tim Tyne's "The Sheep Book for Smallholders" but in these parts no-one uses it and I completely bamboozled our lamb-butcher and slaughterman (They asked what word I was saying and how did I spell it!) by talking about this year's tup. They say, simply, that you "let the ram in" or "let the ram out (into the ewes' field)".

Dry salt cure for this leg complete. Now it gets air-dried
While we are on pork and butchery, our dry salt-cured complete leg of pork is now through the salting process. It gets covered in salt for 21 days, with daily draining of the brine water which is sucked out of the meat by osmosis and repairs to the salt crust 'patted' onto it all over. This salts the outside very well and dries the outside to a nice safe preserved dark-red state. The salt and spices are then washed off and the leg patted dry before being enclosed in a muslin bag and hung up to dry in a good cool drafty place for between 4 and 18 months.

Full leg in its muslin bag.
The muslin keeps the flies and dust off the meat while the salt diffuses throughout the meat and the inner/outer saltiness evens up, plus various other chemical changes happen to mature the meat. You hope that you have left no bits uncured to go off. If the meat starts to smell you cannot recover it and just have to throw it away, though you are allowed to scrub surface moulds off the outside with vinegar during the curing time. We are hoping for a 'parma ham' type effect but we might be a while showing you any results. 18 months? What is that all about? Patience is the thing.

Music sessions at the local pub are still going strong.
Here 8 musicians make a goodly noise
The need for a muslin bag led Liz to break out the sewing machine and write out a list of projects on which to try her skills even though sewing 'school' is currently broken up for a 4 week holiday due to all the others involved being tied up on other jobs. The muslin bag turned out to be no simple wrap-around shroud - it had posh seams and a draw-string tie at the top. The string was even plaited for extra strength and the whole leg is now hanging on this from a screw in the loft-hatch.

Skilled hands work another seam.
Better still, Liz decided to try to make me an entire replacement copy of my Summer-weight dressing gown, originally a rather posh 'designer' (Calvin Klein) one, a gift from Liz decades ago. It is my habit to 'sprint' round on my first livestock round in the dressing gown (plus crocs or wellies if necessary and, of course coat and hat if it is raining) and I have over the years snagged the old one a couple of times on fences or doors and worn it thin so that it was looking a bit disreputable. I can then 'lep' back into bed for a sneaky lie-in till it is a sensible time to bring Liz her cup of tea.

Who needs Calvin Klein?
To the rescue, then, a redundant dark blue kingsize bedsheet, 8 feet by 8 feet of flat, blank "canvas" onto which Liz could chalk the shapes of the panels of the old one and the parts of sleeves, belt, pockets, collar. I just had to do 'model' occasionally, standing on chairs or next to Liz who was on a chair with pins between her lips and tape measure in hand; we had a number of fittings for this tailoring. The "bespoke" and "livestockman's" words in my title? It was during one of these fittings that Liz asked about pockets and I admitted that the pockets were only ever used for carrying two carrots, those for rabbits Ginny and Goldie who I reach further round the 'rounds' and that I only ever use the left hip pocket and the left breast pocket. The two hip pockets Liz had already made up quickly got re-pinned to these locations on the gown and Bingo! A unique one-off garment but one which Liz is delighted to find that she could easily turn out again if needed. I am very pleased with it and the Calvin Klein original is currently in the blue wheelie bin, just rags now. Up-cycling at its best.

Monday 14 September 2015

A Suitable Suitor

Rambo goes nose to nose with Myfanwy.
Today was definitely all about the sheep. First job was to load the twin lambs Thelma and Louise and deliver them to the butcher-men and the 2nd was to collect our borrowed tup, 'Rambo' while we still had the trailer hitched on, bring him back here and introduce him to our girls ready for his romantic month's holiday in sunny Roscommon. The short version says that it all went OK and the twin lambs are no more while Rambo is relaxing with his new entourage. Would that it was that simple.

Rambo beats the bounds of his new patch. 
If you have read the previous post, you will know that our practise loading runs on the twins had not been going as well as hoped, so we were not entirely sure we'd get the twin lambs loaded and delivered for the booking. They are strong and energetic young things and Liz is a wee bit small to stop one at the charge (even I struggle) so we'd have had to catch one each, hang on tight and then manhandle them up the trailer ramp and hope they stayed in there for the few seconds it takes for us to step off the ramp and lift it shut. Thankfully and very generously and much appreciated by us, Sue (of the piglet wrangling) offered her services as third hand. We accepted, naturally and on the morning decided to wait Sue's arrival rather than try on our own. We didn't want to stir up the sheep in advance.

The tup moves in on the 'talent'.
In the event, Sue arrived with grown-up Grandson Lewis as well (dressed a bit smart as he was really off to college but Sue had made him bring wellies and spare trousers in case!) so we'd be mob handed and also arrived late due to some unforeseen problem with a toppled electric fence. These things happen with livestock but the butchers know this and the booking times are not rigid. It was the work of just 3 minutes or so to grab a twin each and persuade them into the trailer, with the third hand ready to shut the ramp-door and the 4th hand just blocking an exit in case anyone got any ideas. 15 minutes later they were delivered to Ignatius G and the paperwork all done, and we guess Lewis already delivered to college on time. The plan was then for both vehicles to run independently to Sue's for our rendezvous with the tup.

Rambo with (l to r) Dylan, Myfanwy, Polly and Lily
If it is possible, loading Rambo was even easier. He is a big solid lad but soft as butter, is trained to a head collar and will follow a bucket of food anywhere so between three of us, with Prada the St Bernard looking on as back-up we quickly extracted him from his field (where-in his other girlfriend and one son) and walked him to the trailer. Lob the bucket in and give the lad a nudge, and he was in there, happy as Larry. He didn't stay that way (happy) mind and objected quite hard to being caged and then moved behind the car - he was playing up a bit bouncing around, turning about and, if the car stopped, stamping his forefeet in rage enough that we could feel the dip transmitted through the tow hitch to the car. We could also hear him roaring but there was nothing for it but to carry on driving gently home. We hope he is not too traumatised by the journey that he will remember trailers and not want to play on the return journey.

Doing a 'bare necessities' scratch on the big tree.
The ewes (and lamb) were waiting for him on the front lawn so we had decided to unload him through the 2nd 'driveway' entrance (which now gives onto the lawn field). We can plug the trailer in there nice and tight so nobody can escape round the sides while you have the gate open. The change in Rambo's demeanor when he spotted the ewes was highly amusing. He had come down the ramp all "Harrumph! Bloody Trailers! The INDIGNITY of it!" but then his whole face and body language changed as he spotted the girls and his little face said, "Babes!" His head came up and he positively strutted out into the open posing like a pro.

A quick game of hide and seek, or possibly "hard to get"
As you'd expect the girls were a bit worried by this bulky new arrival and grouped together, then ran in circles trying to avoid him as he lumbered over. The run-around only lasted about half an hour (he'll be nice and fit, anyway) before they all seemed to relax and although none of the females are truly ready for him yet, they are allowing him close and to do a few exploratory sniffs of lady-bits. The young ram-lamb seems to be coping too. He just moves away when Rambo comes to chat up his mum. So now we have two new noises around the 'farm', the bassy grunts, 'barks' and low baa-ing of the ram and the jaunty tinkling of his sheep-bell. Sue has a tinkling bell on him as he can sometimes try a playful charge at anybody in his field, specialising in attack from the rear. He can 'have you over', warns Sue. The bell gives you a bit of warning to turn round and face him where-upon he deflates and strolls over to ask for food. Me? I wasn't going to charge you! Thought never crossed my mind, guv!

So, here he is anyway, our tup, with us for a month or so hoping to get all three girls into lamb. Thank you very very much, Sue for the loan there-of and for your help loading today. We all hope for a happy ending come February.

Sunday 13 September 2015

I'll Leave You Beyond.

JD Bob's link-box, here full of logs.
For today's post you'll need to know of a very basic chunk of farm equipment, the 'Link-Box'. This is basically a metal tray which mounts on the 3-point linkage on the back of the tractor (hence the name) with, if you're lucky, a rear panel or tailgate. Useful for moving bags of feed, bales, fencing gear and so on around, it is. Comfortable, safe passenger accommodation it is not. There is no suspension except the bounce in the mighty V-Tread tyres, no soft place ot sit, no smooth edges to save you if you lose your footing, no protection from the weather and a clear line of shot for the rooster-tails of gritty road-water arching across the sides of the box from those same tyres. I cannot imagine it is even remotely legal to give or accept lifts in one. We will draw a veil over our proudly displayed (free) "Farm Safety" stickers.

Mrs Silverwood in the Starsky jacket.
Friday then, lashing rain all day from a warm front which inched slowly across the country from 'wesht' to east aligned pretty much north/south. An early call from Bob caught me just as I was about to walk down to his place (it's only 600 yards but no car that day as Liz was in Silverwood-land) and told me it is too wet to walk, so he'd bring the tractor up. I thought he meant he'd then give me the tractor to go do the feeding while he sat indoors here drinking tay and minding the place. Oh no. His plan was to collect me and bring me to his in the link-box. Thanks Bob, that was real luxury! I had wellies, hat and coat and there was only me, so I was at least able to squat centrally and both the rooster-tails of muddy water missed me. I clung to the top link and gritted my teeth.

Very late but at last some decent crop from the tunnel -
4.8 kg of toms today.
Lesson learned - link-box passengering is one of those exceptions to the rule that "even third class riding is better than first class walking". Saturday dawned sunny so I out-manouvred Bob by setting out early, walking, and was into the tractor, loaded and gone before Bob even knew I was about. Not completely though. He invited me in for tea (as usual) and then said that he wanted to come up to the next feed-station with me so that he could check the water-barrels and afterwards, take the tractor off to the village for shopping.

Also later than I have ever grown them - nice young tender
broad beans in September!
We have been out 'wesht' here for a few years now and we have got the measure of most local turns of phrase and expressions but one still defeats me with its tortuous randomness. This is the way they describe the location of somewhere which is at a distance, a village or farm, say, or a pub which is a few villages away. They use a random combination of up, down, over, away, beyond, above and below which seems, to me, irrespective of whether the place is futher up/down the map, more/less elevated in the hills, close or distant or at any compass point from 'here'. The place is "above beyond" or "away below" or "over above" and you just have to hope there might be more clues in the directions... "above beyond by Creaton's pub" or similar.

All food should be clearly labeled, don't you agree?
With the jobs done yesterday and the sun still shining, Bob got me with a classic one of these when he announced "I'll leave you beyond" (he says it "lave" as in "slave"). My blank look had him repeat as if to an idiot. "I'll leave you BEYOND" I worked out that what he was saying was that he'd "run me home" or "drop you to the garden gate" and it would have been churlish to refuse another link-box ride. I was nabbed! At least this time there was no rain and wet to contend with but Bob, who normally goes everywhere in that thing at idling speed, chose this one to cane it a bit on the throttle slider and that road is not flat. I was bounced around like a child on a Thelwell cartoon pony. Shaken but not stirred? Now, at least, Liz and the car are back, so today's feed run was in the comfort of a Fiat Panda driver's seat.

Supper for one in the absence of Liz. An individual cottage pie,
broad beans and (Oh Joy) a favourite beer now for sale locally.
Back at the 'ranch' we finally have a decent tomato crop. I picked 4.8 kg on Saturday which Liz will convert into tomato sauce/passata. She is also after me for some fruit for a new discovery for us 'chilli tomato jam' which we made for the first time last year inspired by a gift and recipe from Mazy or 'red tomato jam'. What I am glad we don't need to make is green tomato chutney, that back-stop for crops that you fail to ripen. All well and good and delicious in small quantities but we have jars of the stuff from earlier years before we learned that plug-plants are the only method that seems to work here.

Lovely clean onions. Not huge, but again the golden variety
did best, with the white-skin and red onions way behind on size.
I also have now good quantities of mange-tout peas, black kale, chard and, at last, a very late crop of young, tender broad beans. I love my broad beans but Liz only enjoys them young. Once they are starting to do that greyish skin thing, then she double-skins them and uses just the inner cotyledons, very nicely, I should add with garlic butter or some such. We crop hard while the pods are still young. I am also using onions straight off the ground. I will not have too many to ripen this year, a good thing in this very late season and the month of September. We are getting plenty of potatoes too but again, for now, I leave them in the ground and harvest as required.

We're all happy to put 2 feet on the ramp but 4? Not on your Nellie
We have 2 lambs now ready and booked in this week for their final journey so over this weekend I have been trying to familiarise them with the concept of 'trailer'. Regular readers will know that we have found this to be a breeze with pigs. Always greedy, a pig will follow a trail of chopped apple or cherry tomatoes anywhere and within minutes will have weighed up the pros (food) and cons (possible trap in trailer) and come to the decision that this bouncy, wheeled wooden box is just another food bowl. The sheep are proving to be a lot more wary and, despite a couple of practise runs, I fear they will not be 'trained' by tomorrow morning. They have all sneaked one or two front feet onto the ramp, craning forwards to reach the bowls of food IN the trailer, but so far no-one has gone all the way in.

Bizarre digital photo effect on this ordinary coalite and turf
fire in the range. This purple flame was not there in "real life"
but is there on all the digital pics. The camera does not lie?
There is the added complication that we only want 2 to load, the twin ewe lambs, so at some stage we must separate the twins from the rest as we may not be able to persuade 2 sheep up the ramp and 4 not to go up. Sheep, as everyone knows, group together when under "attack", so we will either load 6 or none! In practise, we have had a nice offer of help loading from Sue, so we may have enough manpower on hand to grab our required two and man-handle them, out of the flock and up the ramp. Not an ideal situation but at least they get a more comfortable ride than this 'shepherd' does in that link-box. More on this story in the next post.