Thursday, 31 December 2015

Wind Pruned Thorn

May happiness be your frequent companion; as you set forth on paths as yet untrod.

With gratitude enough for the lessons learnt on uphill struggles.

Onwards...'tis the only way.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Twmpa, or Lord Herefords' Knob

The lengths... And heights; to which I will go to avoid tedious admin....

Blustery...But still not that cold for late December in Wales...Great; dragon filled cloudscapes......Glad of the Rubber Bog Trotters for sure.....Wind strength? Not quite blown over....That's a '7' on my personal Beaufort Scale...But comedys'  loss; perhaps my gain.
What a fun sponge...

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Real Farming......Not quite so twee....

A good run out to clear the lungs and the head. These Devon lanes are a touch on the soggy side right now, but there are plenty folks further North who'd give anything to have roads this dry.

This cottage is one of very few round here; that hasn't been 'done up, to within an inch of it's life'.
The garden is typically rural of the old school...i.e. 
"Who's got time or inclination for gardening as a hobby when you're outside working all day anyway?"

Picturesque perhaps; could do with a lick of paint certainly; but if you'd spent all day out with the cows, who could blame you for preferring a nice tidy; easy to run; brick built; centrally heated 'unsightly' bungaloid?

And here below; another scarce beast in these parts. 
A still in operation dairy farm in a valley where once, on account of it's lush grass, it was awash with cows. You'd have to spend most of your waking hours cycling these lanes to risk being stuck behind a herd of those beasts nowadays...It happened to me last Spring whilst pedaling 'The land that time forgot'  cowparsley strewn, misty meanderings of Mid Devon; but that's another story....

This is no nostalgia for the 'olden days'. I've done my time milking cows for months at a stretch. It takes a certain non flighty; steadily dedicated; (dare I say bovine?) routine loving type, to do it long term, even when it makes a living. 

But now with the price of milk on the floor; or at least unreliable enough to discourage long term investment in essential infrastructure; who would blame anyone in possession of a prime piece of real estate such as this; for selling it on to someone with the means to redo the thatch; paviour the collecting yard; and park a shiny 4wd thereupon.....And thence to live happily forever after in a 'Slantylightshire' fantasy land alongside gently grazing ponies for Jasper and Jemima..

If they do; I hope they'll preserve at least some of the wiggly tin for posterity...

Meanwhile; in further afield notes....

With funds somewhat boosted by familial seasonal largesse (Thanks Ma!) Have completed the final booking for my next let - out - of - the - valley - by - myself;  excursion....Someone got the hint about train tickets..and socks..

Will be hanging out on the fringe with a few more 'Green and Pleasant' (Peasant?) Farmers here...

You'd think there might be a modicum of consensus amongst; as to what to do?
But as with most cutting edges; it can get a bit messy... How to avoid self defeating infighting; how not to feel overwhelmed by the challenges ahead?

The problems are apparent to anyone who can spare even a couple of brain cells to rub together over the issues.... Climate change; habitat loss; soil degradation; flooding; food security; air and water pollution; malnutrition running alongside an obesity 'crisis'; depressed farm incomes (and farmers?) nigh on impossible access to land for new farming start ups; faced with inflated land prices; and an unhelpful (to say the least) planning system.

 Public ignorance and apathy. A system of profits paramount; that encourages farmers to 'get big or get out'.....A quick buck attitude; that colludes in the false image of  bucolically blissful country living peddled by some in the media; and oft pictorially plastered on the sides of the pantechnicons that ply our trunk roads, which masking the true realities of unsustainable factory farming and cheap imports...

I could go on ; and I have; and I doubtless shall again.

It will be interesting (to me) to listen to proposed solutions; and argue the toss with like and unalike minds....And to return with new ideas; and most likely more questions...

And I think there might be some dancing, on offer...

It really is quite astonishing the lengths to which I will go to avoid cracking on with those seed orders.... Toodle pip!...My lovelies...

Friday, 25 December 2015

38 years since...

The full moon fell upon this date...
I like to think my nine year old self would be quite pleased to know; that at the next concurrence; her (not quite) grown up self would have her own tractor and loader to catch it in.
The only trouble with 'dreams come true'  if you're the ambitious type; is that you then need some new dreams to chase after...
But in the less ponderous meantime, a bit of a sit down, and more food and drink than is perhaps strictly advisable.
And maybe just slightly less clambering about on slippery compost heaps; aiming to effect the best angle....I was keeping myself entertained whilst waiting for the chickens to go to bed. I think they mistook the rising bright moon for the sun coming up... Country girls; Easily confused.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Picked; Fettled;

And awaiting their final journey. 

35 kilos of the finest organically grown brassicas to be shared nicely between the lucky folk of the Vale.

There's still time for panic buying of more satsumas than one household could feasibly eat in a month.

There's still opportunity for purchasing well meant January land-fill.

We can even spend a bit of time grinding on about how it's all really just a Midwinter Bacchanalian Festivitie to mark the turning of the season; and the pull away from the shortest day.

But in and amongst all of this; we must give some thought to the real significance of this time of year...

It is of course...

All About.

,The Baby Cheeses...

Monday, 21 December 2015

An Anonymous Biscuit Fairie...?

Very much liking this seasonal variation on a theme; upon descending from the heights of the red cabbage patch; homebaked offerings sit awaiting on the porch; blessed much...

I'd call them just desserts for getting ahead with this weeks harvesting. 

Thanks Vera !

Sunday, 20 December 2015

"It's Complicated"

I promised didn't I?

 That I would show you what Girl Monday does when she's not here weeding; helping move chickens; planting x y or z; or hoeing this, that, or the other....

She claims; quite erroneously; that she knows nothing about horticulture after having spent the last twelve years grafting for me.

Naturally she knows loads; but what she means is that she is quite happy not to be required to know.
Someone else is in charge ; she only has to do; not organise; not plan; not be an authority; not be answerable........

'Girl Monday' practises the art and craft of; and teaches; and researches; and writes books about; and runs a business supplying the materials for; Kumihimo.

The ancient, meticulously mathematical art, of Japanese braiding....One could very easily get horribly tangled up with it...

She's even been to those Isles to teach it back to them... Talk about 'Coals to Newcastle'...

Pictured above are many hand made braids stitched together, which eventually covered the whole surface area of a jacket. It might make one weep to calculate the hours of work involved. And if all those hours were charged; even at the minimum wage it would run into the thousands; but that is not what it's about...

All very well you might say for someone able to indulge in 'La di da' crafts whilst the rest of us have to go out and graft at a dull job to earn a living....

Yes indeed.

 GM can now make a living at doing what she does. But that doesn't mean there weren't many years of having margarine instead of butter; (ultimate sacrifice in my book) and folks hinting 'you could get a proper job with your qualifications / intelligence'. Years of wondering where the electricity bill payments were coming from; and so on.....

Now; for GM there are international teaching gigs; there are book orders; research grants coming in from all over; exciting commissions.  And that's all very well and satisfying when you can look back.....And know it worked out.

At the time with small children; swimming against the tide so to speak; wondering "am I being self indulgent?" Most folks could be forgiven for opting for a safer, more stable career path....

And then what? What is the point of all this 'art n craft n doing your thing' stuff?

 It is what makes us human perhaps?

Makes our hearts sing? It doesn't matter what it is....Some of us get it from climbing mountains; crocheting tea cosies; making (or eating) cheese; music; dancing; adorning our toenails; telling tall stories; studying particle physics; arguing the toss; growing fragrant flowers; painting our bedrooms pink; the list is endless.

Of course. first, we need to be able to fulfil our basic needs; food; shelter; safety for ourselves and at the very least our kin.
 But even whilst we satisfy those needs, something in us is looking for the other; the creative; our own voice; our own individual response to the wonderment of being alive; and here right now; on this incredible planet....

And then of course there's that:- 'This Planet'... Oh bugger!

 We all know that it isn't an infinite plain of infinite depth; with infinite resources to use and unlimited atmosphere to pollute.

But most of us; in the west at least; (myself very much included) live as if it were...

We know (if those pictures from space are to be believed) that we inhabit a tiny fragile unique spheroid of life; with the thinnest crust of usable soil; and that fresh water is a scarce miracle, and that the atmosphere has only so much capacity...

But at the same time; there is so much to see and do......

'Girl Monday' may (or may not depending on whether any burglars* are reading) have just gone off again; to the Far East; for her second fun jaunt that way this year...
She is fully aware that cycling here each Monday doesn't 'Greenwash Hogwash' Offset that.

I reckon that well over half the people I hold dearest have taken at least one long haul flight this last year, either for work or pleasure... Often both.
So with me being a environmentalist non flier you might think I would disapprove?

Well; "Its complicated"

 I love my friends, I want them to be happy and fulfilled, and have good times (just spare me too many details....)
And they are all switched on enough know the consequences of what they're doing.

And I know it doesn't make a gnats fart of a difference overall if I do; or don't fly.

We all have to decide individually upon lines that we will; or won't; cross to satisfy our desires...
And then of course those lines can shift.....

Another friend; who comes to help quite regularly at the field; has been up til now of the staunchly no flying camp.

But just recently has been offered work in backcountry Canada setting up (spot the glaring irony here) 'outdoor environmental education' programmes for children.

What to do? Principals; versus well paid work, kudos, and playing in the woods in Canada...

They would be crazy not to go....

It's relatively easy to have principals when you're not being overly tempted.....
But when you are? That's when the really hard work begins.....

As Oscar would have it.

"I can resist anything; except temptation"

And then qualifies with....

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”

Whilst I was checking the attribution was correct.... Dear, dear Google.... This; of his; also struck as apposite...

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” 

It is something we can all claim as being the worlds leading expert on....Being ourselves.... For good or ill.

And what that is, shifts, and is complicated.......

*She has housesitters BTW.....

Friday, 18 December 2015

Pink wiggles

Beyond weeding and harvesting there is precious little horticulture that goes on at this time of year.
But plenty of prep and planning for next season to be undertaken.

After filling in the 'Productivity of Small Farms' survey, and wrestling with seed orders this week it brings home why sometimes all this bucolic blissfulness can feel a mite overwhelming... 
Over fifty different crops; to fit in their proper places rotation, quantity, and timing wise. Then so many varieties of each to consider. It can get a bit 'kid in a sweetie shop' when looking at pretty pictures in catalogues... 
Too much choice; and of course they are all 'generously cropping; and of a superb flavour'

But then, when asked "What is your most profitable crop ?"
 The answer has to be "Variety"

That could be the spur for somewhat hyperbolic accolades such as; "It's like Christmas every week "

(A friend informs me that particular 'festivitie'  does actually fall in seven days time ; but I'm going to hold off believing them for a little while yet...And anyhoo there are plenty of sprouts.... isn't that enough?)

The prospect of say eight different types of tomato, or five different sorts of climbing french beans, in the summer could possibly be what keeps the patrons steadily munching through their kale (six varieties), and dreaming up 'new ways with beetroot' (three varieties) all through the Winter.

And it does make it a bit more engaging for the grower...

So today was the day, for cleaning the outsides of the polytunnels, in order that the shepherds delight can paint them this; oh so alluring pink.
 Algae forms on the polythene and cuts light transmission to the crops inside.
 But how do you clean the top of something that stands over 15 feet tall at its apogee; and that is made of slippery plastic which mustn't be scratched or climbed upon?
Well, first you make sure it's Friday so the man of that monikker is to hand... And then, check there will be some rinsing rain in the next twenty four hours.
Next half fill a dustbin with hot water and add generous amounts of non-biological washing powder. The bio stuff won't do...Eats away at the triple laminate plastic.

Have much fun; and several fails: at tossing a rope over said tunnel.... 
This man sails boats; but obviously isn't usually required to throw a painter (?) quite so high. 
Once successful.....
Dump a long length of crop cover mesh into the hot water. attach mesh to rope and haul one wet soapy end of it over to the other side.

Then it's "To me; to you" up and down its length like scrubbing the back of a whale.
Repeat times three.
You end up with very soapy armpits; unnaturally clean hands; and somewhat achy biceps; but the pakchoi and other assorteds are very grateful I'm sure.

 What if it doesn't rain to rinse? Deploy a farm boy with a hosepipe in the morning?
 I think his lie in is assured; I can hear it starting to chuck it down now.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Unsung Heroes

Look after the bugs; and everything else will look after itself...

On a day that butterfly population rates are reported to have declined depressingly.......

Here are some shots of our fellow residents taken by someone who knows how to drive his camera; taken at the 'stead last Summer...

Yes I am getting on with seed orders; and lovely murky weather for it too.
 But that can make it hard to imagine that warmer weather will return; and that Spring will ever be sprung enough to sow new crops.

All these jewel like creatures living here in such abundance give some hope.

 And justification for not always being on top of the weeding; it means the wee beasties get plenty forage.

Yes of course I will give them all names soon, in order to satisfy the entomologically curious ......

More distractions.......Just what I need

But in the meantime...

Pictures by Paul Taylor :- July 2015

Elspeth getting into her stride......

' wrestling' sheild bugs

Friday, 11 December 2015

And Lo' the great 'Sprout Fest' begins....

"Don't get me involved in your vegetable dioramas"

Quote from second born son whilst he helps fettle and bag produce for the seasonal markets; I get diverted  by just how very distractingly pink chard stalks can be; and request that he pass me a slightly smaller bud, for my pictorial tomfoolery.

Apparently the abundant sprout crop isn't entirely down to my consummate skill as a grower. This August's weather is more likely the main cause. So sorry kids; there are going to be plenty everywhere...Mmm.

A two day yoga sojourn in Bristol coming up for me.
Might not be some people' equivalent of a 'lie down in a darkened room', for the mentally stretched.....

But I would disagree. Being a student, is tantamount to a luxury break for anyone in the bad habit taking on too much....Someone else being in charge; no expectations; lovely.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Trains, bicycles, custards, and wiggles,

Whatever does it for you....Do more of it....

This October I was in Yorkshire; cycling about in various weathers. 
During a brief respite from the Proper Northern Rain, this steam train arrived in Goathland on the North Moors.

 I could have got a better shot of it pulling in, if I'd been prepared to leap into the path of an oncoming lorry on the very narrow bridge; under which the rolling stock was passing. Obviously not enough dedication to the cause to attempt a third career in photo journalism.

This picture reminded me of something I only recently discovered about my father, when reading through some old papers of his. 
It was in a transcript of a speech that an old college friend of his had given at his memorial service. Apparently as a youth he was mad keen on trains (yes; even spotting them) and bicycles; something I really don't remember being made aware of as a child growing up.

It made me wonder at how many of our proclivities are absorbed almost by osmosis; rather than directly learnt..

Now, this may single me out as part of the 'Easily Pleased' coterie (no bad thing IMO); but loading a bicycle onto a train is probably one of my top ten thrills. 
Pregnant with the possibilities of new horizons; self directed travel (if they let you off at your chosen stop*) ; whilst at the same time combining two very elegant pieces of engineering.

My career path has been quite different to his; but I think I could credit him; and my mother too with the employment philosophy of "Find something you like doing, and are hopefully reasonably good at, and then work out a way of getting someone to pay you for doing it"

He managed just that; right up until his far too early death seventeen years ago today. 

At the time of his passing he was only twice my age. Having been something of a dilettante in terms of my own occupations up until then; I think his untimely demise somewhat galvanised my energies into 'getting on with life, and settling enough to something (or as it turned out several things) to see it through'.

Small mixed farming suits the temperament of someone in possession of multiple enthusiasms. There's never one job that goes on too long; and there's lots of stuff to find out about, involving a wide range subjects and variables.

Teaching yoga although completely different in some ways; still throws up many challenges and avenues to explore; in addition to being sociable, useful, and fun.

Pa' was a lifelong devotee of a good bit of quality food and drink, I remember his unfondly reminiscing about having grown up in the 'Arid Cake Belt' of East Sheen in the fifties.....
He was particularly keen on the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Middle East; tastes he had acquired through extensive travels in those areas for 'work'.

The legend is, in the world of academic specialisation that:
"You get to know more and more: about less and less; until one day you end up knowing everything about nothing."

Towards the end of his life however he had taken to studying archaeology in areas of recent seismic activity; in order to gain insights in his field of tectonics.

It may not have been entirely coincidental that these studies required him to undertake frequent trips to sunny; properly well-fed lands...

He would most certainly have approved these Sicilian Egg Custards baked by 'Cake Fairy in Chief' Cynthia for the Open Day here at the field, in July. 

Even with the less than conventional addition of her own home grown blueberries.
 How many now classic immutable recipes were 'invented' when something fell into a pot quite by accident. Leading to sublime combinations like this. 

Neither of my jobs is going to bring in vast monetary riches; certainly not with the way I keep accounts anyway;  but this region is so thickly populated with kitchen genii, and culinary craftspersons; that one is seldom left wanting in the delectable edibles department.

If I did have spare cash; I guess it could either be train tickets; more new socks; or possibly an addition to my already extensive (in deep need of rationalisation if I'm honest) collection of tractor implements.... Look girls! It's the spring tine cultivator....With following crumbler bar...... For those of us who just can't resist a bit of a wiggle....

Monday, 7 December 2015

Fresh Pastures.

Fret not; small farming has not been totally abandoned in favour of other outdoor pursuits.

Here Girl Monday #1 makes herself very popular with the girls; newly liberated onto fresh ground, and always glad of some corn to scratch for.

It has to be healthier for the birds to get new forage; and be displaced from their own detritus every few weeks.

It took us less than an hour to move the hens and their house this morning; including taking down then re erecting their netting fences.

Leaving more time for the never ending; self perpetuating job of salad weeding. Natures way of keeping us out of mischief...

Despite having plenty of her own self generated fun to hand; GM has been helping me for the majority of monday mornings for the last twelve years. Not least; by engaging in the kind of conversation that makes three hours fly by.

Soon I will show you what she does with some of her time when she's not busy with horticultural hi jinks here.

Suspense aplenty....

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Surfing at Sunny Sidmouth

Each to their own....Looked like fun..


Surfing in December?

In the tail end of a storm called Desmond?
Some folks maybe didn't ought to be let out by themselves.
Who names these storms? Desmond sounds more 'benevolent uncle' than malevolent tempest.
We've got off lightly down south this time. 

But over the last few Winters our sandstone cliffs have taken a fair old pummelling, from elements undubbed. Our Island is shrinking year on year.
Those land loss statistics might make alarming reading; let's not waste any more good land; building stuff we don't need?

Meanwhile in other stat's news... I was pleased to get all the way up our local cyclists challenge, 'Peak Hill' ascending from Sidmouth, without stopping.
No weight in the panniers makes a massive difference..
Who would have thought?
Oh, and the stats..? 1.64 km, 157m ascent....Time?...Yeah right; I do stuff like that...

View from top?....Spectacular, if blowy.

And paperwork progress?
Hmmn, does walking round self importantly; with a clipboard feverishly scribbling notes; count?

Good.....It's going just fine!

No rolling stones here..

Who doesn't love a good mossy wall - tree combo?

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Friday Frolics....

All work no play etc...

In light of the favourable weather forecast; an executive decision was taken to eschew horticulture in favour of a 'works outing' to Dartmoor. Quite whose genius idea, it first was, to do this being the subject of some controversy (poor Man Friday).

First a brief tea stop to catch up with inestimable Kate, and her burgeoning (but sadly in some parts broken) menagerie on the Eastern edge of the moor...

Then a few miles circuit taking in some breezy heights such as Hound Tor; and here Greator Rocks.

Snapping the chaps doing their best ' Mid Eighties Moody Album Cover' poses on the descent.

For anyone tutting at the less than conventional rock hopping footwear.... I can personally attest that these 'Bog trotters' have a perfectly adequate grip on wet granite.

Very useful too for the moister; deeper parts oft encountered hereabouts; You just have to be careful not to leave your boot behind in a bog.


Apropos of not very much at all.....

Naughty Dorothy Parker upon being tasked with employing the word 'horticulture' in a sentence...

"You can take a whore to culture; but you can't make her think"

I sometimes worry that horticulture leaves a girl with a tad too much time for reflection...Giving rise to a surfeit of 'parlous nonsense.'

But it's now only eighteen days until the shortest one?... Where did that year go?
So today; perusal of seed catalogues for next season, and catching up on some other long ignored paperwork.  
Will doubtless find more interesting diversions to distract myself with afore long...Could always go for a bike ride....

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Confession time...

On an unseasonably warm December day like this; all I really want to do is ride my bicycle.

The oaks still have their leaves on; these linearly aligned ones were once part of a Devon hedge bank; it's since been let go; and the trampling cattle have worn the soil down; so the exposed roots look like gnarled fingers gripping the earth.

The temptation is just to keep rolling on...

I realise it is almost exactly thirty years to the week since I first arrived to work and live in this valley; the plan was to move on after a years work experience. But plans are of course what we make; whilst life happens to us...

Not such a dreadful place to get stuck I think you'll agree.

And I've been cycling up and down this lane for work and pleasure ever since; and herded sheep; bedded sows; tended vegetables; and made hay in many of the fields besides it; along the way.

I did have a reasonable reason to be out whilst right hand Wednesday girl was industriously harvesting the Cavello Nero.....Apparently the blood test shows amongst other things; that I have the kidneys of a twenty year old...
A good thing; one hopes....Or was the doctor suggesting I might like to lay off the ale??

And you can breathe easy now; the balmy temperatures; and the rain in abeyance meant that I did get those last few handfuls of ryecorn tickled into the old pig ground...The corvids hadn't found all of it.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Fresh air; and rainbows....

That's what the ladies live on...
Up til now
Then today I heard a pleasing thing... 

It was several years back, I remember a radio programme about a chap proposing to farm maggots; on slaughter house waste; to create chicken, fish, and pig food.
 All those creatures need a high protein diet which these days usually comes from soya....Not the most sustainable source; even if it's GM free, and organically grown.
But nothing seemed to come of it....I assumed it had fallen foul (fowl?) of 'cultural resistance' Otherwise known as 'the yuk factor'.
Anyway- up; apparently there is currently a woman trialling farm scale production in this country; the flies are feeding on manure (any less yuk?) and the maggots when they're 'ready' conveniently crawl off their food source and congregate waiting to be gathered. 
 Which are then doubtless gently anaesthetised by soporific songs, composed specifically for the purpose. 
Makes perfect sense; turning a liability into an asset. And the manure will have been beautifully processed; into a usable soil amendment...
Will it take off? Remains to be seen. Perhaps just too neat a solution ? 

Could the thought of hens eating maggots be too much for squeamish folk to stomach?
 And if so; do I need to tell the ladies to lay off all those yummy woodlice they are presently dining off in the woodchip pile?