Thursday, 31 October 2013

Where did 2012 and 2013 go?

Rumours we have been blown off our Welsh hillside are greatly exaggerated. It is true that the “summer” of 2012 saw us almost drown under the volume of rain we endured, and that lambing in late March early April 2013 was truly bitter but, no, we are still here!
I’m afraid that 2012 was so bad that I want to recount it only in the briefest of terms.  Lambing was fine – 4 ewe lambs and 2 ram lambs; lambing percentage 200% by the time they went.
One of our 2012 lambs
All sweetness and light
Gloucester old spot x Tamworth pigs. From their initial arrival and subsequent escape within 24 hours we knew they were going to be hard work. As the winter continued into June it really was damned hard work wading through eighteen inches of liquid mud to feed them twice a day. Loading them into the trailer at the end of summer was even less so – just thinking of it makes me shudder.
They went on to a better place and the resultant meat was/is delicious.
I swore that if we were to keep pigs again we’d fence them in with post and rail and pig-wire. When we analysed the costs of production we saw that keeping pigs again would be unlikely to be economically worthwhile. Especially so given the local slaughterhouse is no longer accepting them. Add to this the cost of permanent rather than electric fencing and I really can’t see that we’ll have them on the holding again. A pity as they are wonderful animals.

Before the rain turned this into the Somme
The Allotment was pretty poor. We lost a lot of spuds to blight; onions rotted too (though this was probably from the way I stored them) and there was no purple sprouting broccoli. Beans and peas did OK and raspberries are indestructible. We did however lose 2 x apple trees to canker. The weather seemed to rot everything. Brussels sprouts seemed to do well and garlic wasn't too bad, but these later rotted in storage.
Healthy onions
Sprouts did surprisingly well

The weather had rare breaks when it could be called pleasant with mid-June being about the best of it.

Louise with a courgette
Part of the 2012 garlic harvest
Autumn 2012 faded into winter and come January we had the snow we have come to expect and to a degree, welcome. Its transforming qualities never cease to amaze me. In fact this year we had a lot of snow with deep drifts breaking the cable ties that support our wind netting on The Allotment. On the lane beside the house it was laying almost waist deep on the flat, with drifts rolling like waves. The sheep was scoffing their hay and work for me at least was on hold.

The view from the lounge, winter 2012/13

Snowy sheep

Drifting snow in waves 3 or 4 feet deep
Work goes on
Into 2013 and a freezing spring came next, with a real dip in temperatures just as our sheep were due to lamb. We didn’t have the snow that other farmers had, but the freezing cold wind chill dried every new leaf to a faded brown crisp. It seemed spring would never arrive.
Again we had 6 lambs but this time the genders were reversed – 2 ewe lambs and 4 ram lambs. The wrong way round – we’d ideally get 6 ewe lambs but nature gives you what it chooses. Once again Spotty Nose rejected her second lamb, so once again we had a molly on a bottle – a twice daily chore of mixing milk and feeding that lasts from birth to the end of July.
We decided to keep the two ewe lambs back and sold the ram lambs – 1 privately and 3 at Crymych

The summer was a cracker, with high temperatures and dry days – just what we, The Allotment, sheep and nature needed. This was the first good summer we’ve had since we moved here in 2007 and we needed it.  Everything has flourished, with our best ever crops from The Allotment – everything did well. The garden was just idyllic. Here are a few pics to remember just what a good summer it was.

We are not lambing in 2014 – we are having a year off which will give us more time to really get The Allotment going for 2014, and perhaps some time to get away and see our much-missed friends in Hampshire.
So here we are now as winter approaches. The last few weeks have been characteristically wet and windy, but the “St Jude” storm missed us completely for which we are thankful. We’ll probably get some snow at Christmas, but before long spring will be here and the work will start in earnest again.

Finally just a word about one of our friends here in Wales. Lins had some news of the worst kind, but has dealt with it inspirationally and, though she doesn’t know it, has shown me personally just keeping positive in the face of adversity really means. I’m thankful for the lesson and send my love to her.  Lins, 2013 is nearly over and 2014 is on its way.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

About time too - it's autumn!

Yep, I know, i've been remiss in keeping this blog going through the summer - apologies. It's been a bit of a busy time here, ar y fferm.

When I left you Spotty Nose was yet to drop, Amber the Chicken was a bit poorly and my thumb was throbbing, smashed, as it had been, between two rocks.

Well all did not go well with Spotty Nose. Not long after I last wrote Louise was up doing the early morning check (by that I mean 3 a.m.) only to find a dead ram lamb. She came to get me and I sat with Spotty Nose to make sure there wasn't a second lamb due to come, but there wasn't, just the single. The lamb had been licked clean on one side, but had clearly not got up as he was dirty on the other. She might have had a difficult birth or it might have been born dead, we'll never know.

So we are left with just the three.

Wooly Jumper, our single ewe lamb

Over the summer they've all done really well, growing nicely and putting on weight even though the weather has been poor. The lambs didn't go for the chop this time, instead one Louise and I's mutual customers, Maggie, has bought them and they went off to her place, a farm about 6 miles away. I'll be able to check up on them each month when I go to do the windows!

The lambs about to go to Maggie's

Our ram lamb - he's grown a lot (see last blog entry)

Amber the chicken was another tragic case. She finally gave up the ghost and I did a backyard autopsy on her to find some sort of growth inside her.We've put it down to egg peritonitis. Indeed she wasn't the only chicken we lost. I had to despatch another hen who refused to get better and put weight on. As anyone with a smallholding will tell you the birth and death of animals is all part of the deal.

Gill, Louise's sister came down at the end of April to give us a hand given I was out of action and it was the busiest time of the year. I think she began to regret it as she tackled the area the pigs had been with the rotovator.

Gill about to face Round 2 with the rotovator...

The ground was as hard as iron due to the hot spell we'd had and it was hilarious watching here as it bounced and dragged her around all time trying to keep her cool! Actually she was a massive help, so THANKS again Gill!

Given it was so nice we put the courgettes and squash/pumpkins out in mid-May - just as the weather turned cold, wet and windy. Indeed most of our small seedlings were hopelessly held back by the weather. So whilst i'm on the subject here's what's been a success and failure:

Successes: Strawberries, raspberries, spuds (5 varieties - Anya, King Ed, Desiree, Swift and another I can't remember), onions, garlic, shallots, peas, spinach, beetroot. Salad (but that doesn't count as you have to be a total plonker not to be able to grow that).

Failures: Tomatoes (not one red fruit - I kid you not. And yes, they were in the greenhouse), aubergine, runner beans (3 ft tall as I write - not one bean), broad beans, sweetcorn (leaning 45 degrees 'cos of the wind), courgettes, butternut squash (hopeless), cucumber (especially hopeless). Spuds (I know they are in the 'success' row, but see below.

The spuds were maddening. They grew well and just as I spotted some blight I dug them all up and washed them clean, discarding any that were less than 100% perfect. Dried in the sun they were packed into paper spud sacks - all in all about 12 hours hard work. We had around 12 bags of spuds. A week later the bags were leaking a stinking, slimy supporating goo; an investigation showed that a good half of the crop had turned to mush.
At this point I contemplated putting the house on the market and moving to a 3 bed semi in lovely Newport.

In the end we cleaned the crop (again) and repacked in bags. Luckily we'd had far too much (we could have supplied the local chippy for a season and still had enough for ourselves) so we are no spud-less. The ones that remain seem to be ok, but we'll see.

Enough for a demijohn of Chateux Haul Y Bryn?

The garlic did well this year

Leeks and spinach

Our rubbish courgettes. Back to the green ones next year...

A barrow load of onions.

Autumn colours

So here we are at the start of autumn. Already the leaves are turning and we've had a big storm just a few days ago. I've binned the tomato plants out of disgust and the onions and garlic are out of the ground. The swallows that nest in our stable raised two broods this year and have left for Africa. The brassicas are doing OK-ish and the sheep are begining to put weight on now the lambs have gone - soon it will be time for their boyfriend to come a calling, and the whole cycle will start again.

We have a short break soon, it being our 10th wedding anniversary, but after that we've plenty of digging to be done in preparation for winter if anyone fancies a break with a difference. In the meantime it's hwyl for now and thanks for reading.

Louise and Gill scoffing cake (post boot camp) and Jasper in his usual position, ready to hoover up any titbits.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

New lambs for Easter

Domino and her new lambs

Close followers of this blog will know that back in November my position as Alpha Male at Haul Y Bryn was temporarily challenged by a magnificent ram by the name of Mayfield Grenadier who came to stay with us for a few weeks. Like me, he took a right shine to our 3 ewes, Spotty Nose, Woolly and Domino (we've given in and named them), and pretty soon all were in-lamb. Here we are a few months later on and it's lambing time.

Back on the 4th April the first ewe to lamb, Domino, produced twins, a ewe and a ram lamb.

Little ram lamb - just 2 hours old

As these were Domino's first lambs labour took longer than usual, but I had no need to assist. In hospital on the 9th April with my busted thumb Louise was the only one here and in the late evening of the 10th she was busy helping ewe, Woolly, to produce a large single lamb.

The cord was trapped around its neck so Lou had some fiddling to do to enable the ewe to give birth. Indeed Louise had to help it out as it was bigger than average, often the case with a single.

We have friends who are currently preggers so Louise's recent practice may be of use if they are visiting and there is an urgent need to scrub up...!

Domino and her lambs - names please

We keep them in for a few days, but let them out during the day after 4 or 5 days, and out permanently after a week. Foxes are the main problem, along with crows, so keeping them in helps them put on a bit of weight and strength.

As we only have 3 ewes that leaves one last one to lamb - Spotty Nose.

Spotty Nose resting in the sun

She was covered twice, a few weeks apart, so we are not sure when she is due. Logic dictates if she didn't take the first time then the due date should be calculated from the second date she was covered. All well and good, except she's pretty huge now and has a lovely set of boobs on her. We've had her in the last few days and have seen no signs she's about to start lambing, so today she's been let out again; we'll bring her in tonight and monitor her till she starts. At least i'm home to do this given my thumb is knackered.

We've had to seperate Amber the chicken who is looking a bit crook.
Poor Amber, the sickly chicken
She has a very pale comb and wattles, and has that hunched up look that we always see just prior to a chicken dying. Fingers crossed she's ok as we've had her the longest now and she's only just got her nice new feathers after the winter moult.

Meanwhile, back in the greenhouse, things are starting to grow with a fury.

The runner beans are shooting up....

Runner beans begining their marathon

.... and the leeks are poking through too...

Leeks peeping through

The spuds are through the hard cap of clay topsoil we have imported; tonight we'll have to water (the onions and garlic especially) as it's been so dry of late.

Swift spuds doing their best against the clay soil
The blossom is out in the garden....

We are lucky to have spectacular blossom

and the ferns, of which we have an abundance, are unfurling their long, delicate fronds.

Ferny ferns

We even have a white bluebell.

Oooh, a pretty white bluebell

More anon when Spotty Nose has popped.

Spotty Nose, the recalcitrant mother

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Spring is springing!

Well, it seems that winter is over - the buds are swelling and it's time to get down to some serious work in The Allotment. That's not to say that we can't have more  frost and snow - in 2008 we had 6" of snow at the beginning of April, and neighbours say it has even snowed in June...

The first buds to break are of the rosa rugosa that we have alongside the path that runs up the side of the garden, with hazel coming along too. The snowdrops have been up for a month and the daffs are budding up nicely - many are out elsewhere, but at 875' above sea level ours are a little shyer. That's all well and good, but you can't eat the daffs, so we decided we'd better get some work done planting food.

When we created The Allotment a couple of years ago we saw just how thin in places the topsoil was. Pentre Galar, we discovered, means Village of Mourning (I know, it's cheerily named isn't it), but a friend also said he thought it had another meaning. Looking it up in his old geiriadur he said, "Yes, here we are, it means 'Village With Crap Land'".

A great location for us to start growing veggies then.

In order to remedy this a few weeks ago we had 8 tonnes of rotted manure delivered. Between us Louise and I barrowed it onto 2 beds of The Allotment and are awaiting the next load. As it's a freebie we have to fit in with when our mate can deliver it. On top of this we were topping up with topsoil - see picture. We had 12 tonnes delivered and the pic shows what's left - I guess around 4 or 5 tonnes. You can see how big the area was that was covered by manure and soil by the brown stain on the field... 

Again this was barrowed onto The Allotment - hard work. I can't wait for the next load of manure and the fun of barrowing tonnes more topsoil.

Having the tractors on the land when it wasn't bone-dry has done some damage and I'm not sure how to remedy it. The wheel ruts are deep so filling with molehill spoil won't cut the mustard. I think I might have to get some more topsoil delivered then use a fork to spike the sunken areas (to create drainage) then top with topsoil and seed.

All in all though things are going well. We've a lot more seed to sow: runner beans, broad beans, dwarf beans, climbing peas, mange tout, squash, pumpkin, cauli, cabbage, broccoli, radish, lettuce, spinach, carrots, turnips, parsnips - the list is endless.

You can see from this picture how nice and full the beds are now.

We've managed to get the spuds in. Let's hope the blight keeps off this year. The garlic was planted in fibre pots back in autumn, but we have a load more in the greenhouse, and plenty of onion sets in too. There isn't enough space in the greenhouse - we really need some more stiff seed trays to hold the flimsy cell trays so we can get them off the ground.

Louise limed the chickens' pen in January to help keep it fresh and they seems to be happy. We are getting half a dozen eggs a day again now that they are back in lay after the short winter days.

The sheep too are doing well. All seem to be in-lamb, with the first ewe due around the beginning of April. We lamb in the stables, which makes night-time checks easier and more comfortable than wandering round a field in the rain by gradually-diminishing torch light.

The fruit trees too seem to be growing well, all apart from the Victoria plum that I massacred. 
I know you are supposed to summer-prune plum trees but somehow it all went wrong and now i'm not sure if i've knackered it for good. At least the apple and pear trees are doing well - a big difference in 3 years.

One big job we have on is the removal of all the stones from where last year's pigs were. As you can see there are several tonnes of all sizes of stones to shift. We then rotovate the land and seed it. I think this year we'll invite some friends down to give us a hand...

The garden is looking smart too - very tidy, even if I do say so myself. 

I found some frogspawn in a local pond a few years back and brought it back home in a jar and the offspring have now returned for a second year to spawn with us. No toadspawn, though we do find the occasional toad under a plantpot or log.

So, all is well at the moment. We've got lambing to get out of the way - anyone with sheep knows what a lot of work they can be (what with foot trimming, Heptavac-ing, worming, dagging, getting the feeding regime right to avoid twin-lamb disease and all), but lambing is always an exciting but slightly worrying time of year. Wish us well and come back soon to see how we get on.