Thursday 30 June 2022

Comma butterfly

I saw this Comma butterfly sunning itself on one of our plum trees this afternoon. It looked in pristine condition so I suspect it had not long emerged from its cocoon. This was probably the offspring of a Comma that had over-wintered and will go on itself to produce a second cohort in late Summer. The late Summer-born Commas will hibernate to produce an early summer brood like this one if they get through the Winter. The distinctive jagged wing edges help make the Comma easy to identify.

Wednesday 29 June 2022

Swallow chicks

When I went into our small barn yesterday, which has been empty since the ewes and their lambs moved out in early Spring, a pair of swallows where flying around inside. They flew through the open fronted section and not long after returned. They soon went off again together. When they had gone I took a closer look at one of the corner eaves, and sure enough there was a nest with chicks.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Walnuts in the green

Now is the time to pick walnuts, whilst they are fresh green and before the shell hardens, if you want to pickle them. Pickled walnuts are not everyone's cup of tea, I know. As it happens we recently had a large family gathering and a bowl of pickled walnuts was put out as an afterthought. Not one was left at the end of the day. 

I wonder if some are put off by the look of them - jet black. As for sourness, they do need time to mature and in the process much of the sourness recedes, just as with chutney. Janet has tweaked the recipe and makes a slightly sweeter infusion which works well with the different aromatic spices that also go into it. 

Green walnuts ready for the first stage of their
journey to pickledom.

We look to be having a bumper crop this year for walnuts. The squirrels help themselves but in the years that we have a large crop there is more than enough for us still, and I will expect to have a daily ration of walnuts right through from Autumn to next Summer.

I've mentioned it before, that walnut tree leaves gives off a glorious citrus scent. Its worth brushing up against them if one is nearby.

Saturday 25 June 2022

First pickings

I made some first pickings of some of the berry fruit this morning. Still a little more time needed for the main crop to ripen up, so lots more to come. 

The gooseberries are 'Hinnonmaki Red', smaller and a little less sharp than many of the green varieties. This is the first year the new raspberry canes have fruited, so not too bad to get started with. The blackcurrants and gooseberries will be processed in one way or another or frozen for later use. The raspberries we'll eat fresh. 


Friday 24 June 2022

Infection scare

Late last night I had a notification from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (part of DEFRA) informing me that our holding was within a 10km Control Zone and restrictions had been imposed from 10pm. There had been a suspected outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (which affects pigs, cattle, sheep and other cloven footed livestock) which was being investigated a few miles away. Many will recall the last farm FMD outbreak in the early 2000s which devastated many livestock herds (and livelihoods). So, a warning not to be taken lightly. Such is the concern that I even received a telephone call from the CEO of the British Pig Association this afternoon who was contacting BPA members within the Control Zone.

This evening a further notification was received to the effect that FMD had been ruled out but that further investigations were being conducted for Swine Vesicular Disease (SVD) which has similar symptoms and outcomes but which only affects pigs. Because of this a 10km Control Zone remains in place. 

One of the restrictions of the Control Zone is that livestock cannot be moved on or off the farm or holding. Luckily, as I posted on Wednesday, we had already collected two new gilts to join our existing pigs here. Any later and a movement licence would not have been allowed and the move could not have taken place.

This follows a winter of Avian Influenza restrictions which have not long been lifted. And of course a couple of years of COVID 19 restrictions.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

New gilt weaners

We made a trip to somewhere near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire this morning to collect two new weaners. They are 10 weeks old and are intended to be bred from when they are old enough. They are pedigree British Saddlebacks and are from a new bloodline for us. They are just getting used to their new surroundings.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Sumer is icumen in

Fans of medieval English music might be familiar with this 13th Century song which celebrates the arrival of Summer. This was a time when nearly everyone was a smallholder of one sort or another. I have found the lyrics in Middle English and a modern translation which are reproduced below.

Sumer is icumen in,

Lhude sing cuccu!

Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,

Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb,

Lhouþ after calue cu.

Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,

Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;

Ne swik þu nauer nu.


Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.

Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Modern English

Summer has arrived,

Loudly sing, Cuckoo!

The seed grows and the meadow


And the wood springs anew,

Sing, Cuckoo!

The ewe bleats after the lamb

The cow lows after the calf.

The bullock stirs, the stag farts,

Merrily sing, Cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing,


Don't ever you stop now,

Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.

Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

Saturday 18 June 2022

Friday 17 June 2022

Night noises

Now and again our golden retriever, Spice, wakes up in the middle of the night and the usual cause is that she has been disturbed by loud, raucous barking that has a relentless persistence about it. In the pitch darkness in the early hours there is indeed a chilling quality to the sound. The source of the barking is from a muntjac which are a very common sight around here. 

It happened again a couple of nights ago and it sounded very close by, so I went out with a torch to see if I could usher it away. It was just across the boundary dyke. All I could see were two illuminated green eyes staring back at me. It paused for a few seconds before resuming its call where it had left off. I found a You Tube video which reproduces the familiar sound.

Thursday 16 June 2022

Pond life

Because of the necessity of having to spend time outdoors everyday whatever the weather, as we emerge from the long winter I tend to feel a bit battered. This is followed by a very busy period of lambing, hatching, sowing, planting and hopes that the bare garden area will eventually match the heights of the pervious Summer. In late Spring things settle down a bit and, seemingly all of a sudden, the vegetable plots and the garden are bursting with lush green growth and early summer flowers. Winter is past.

One feature that has sprung into life is the pond, installed on impulse two years ago. It is still a little under-planted but is otherwise coming along nicely. It forms the end boundary of a patio and is fourteen feet in length and four feet wide. It was once a flower bed but now has added aural interest to add to the visual and olfactory pleasures. I have added some close up photos of some of the flowers that are currently displaying themselves in and around the pond.

The pond

Water lily Nymphaea 'Charles De Meurville'

Marsh marigolds Caltha palustris

Arum lily Zantedeschia aethiopica

This iris has flowered for the first time. I was expecting 
it to be the ordinary yellow type so was pleasantly 
surprised with what bloomed.


Monday 6 June 2022

The vegetable beds in early June

Similar to last year, Spring presented some tricky conditions for germinating seeds: a  mixture of a long dry spell and cold conditions with some late frosts.

We had a bountiful harvest of asparagus as usual but have picked the final batch of the year. Any stems that sprout now will be left to grow and produce their ferny foliage for future feasts. Next to the asparagus are some rows of bulbs for cut flowers. We have enjoyed some miniature daffodils and tulips and later on there will be different varieties of gladioli.

The onions, some seed sown in late winter, others planted as sets in the Spring, are coming along fine. These are mainly the reliable Sturon, but also some red onions. We don't grow so many of these as they have a greater tendency to bolt and don't store so well. We are still working through last year's crop of onions and they will hopefully see us through to the next crop. I also grow shallots but now only grow the banana shallots which are very useful for cooking. Not being fans of pickled onions I don't bother with the usual types of shallots.

I didn't plant out the pumpkins (Crown Prince) until June was underway. The Butternut Squash did not germinate at all which is a shame as these make such a good contribution in the kitchen over winter. There's still time to sow again if I get cracking. Courgettes were also delayed until June for planting out. A mixture of green and yellow. The yellow ones I find are more prolific.

I always grow a row of tomatoes outdoors and these are obviously slower to fruit compared to the greenhouse grown tomatoes. Outdoors we have San Mazano, a plum tomato. These will be largely turned into passata.

Along side we have a large block of sweet corn (Swift) which always produces a good crop for us. I have planted out four, twenty foot rows with the plants spaced one foot apart. They provide some useful protection for tomato plants too once they get underway.

Tricky parsnips next. I usually sow these fairly late as they don't like cold, damp conditions (nor hot, dry conditions) and are notoriously slow to germinate. I'm still waiting for them to surface.

Another Winter staple which needs a long growing season is leeks. Two rows of dependable Musselburgh are growing well now they have been transplanted into their respective rows.

The brassica section, fully netted as is essential, comes next. Brussel sprouts (Crispa), cabbage (Greyhound) a red cabbage variety and broccoli. Cauliflower (All the year round) are yet to be planted out. These all have to have a dedicated weeding session because of the rigmarole involved in accessing the ground because of the netting. Overall, they are still worth the effort. 

The adjacent plot starts at the top end with Jerusalem artichokes which we enjoy from time to time over Winter, but this row of vigorous, tall-growing plants also forms a dense annual hedge which serves as a protective barrier for the rest of the plot. 

There is a row of garlic planted last autumn. It should be ready for cropping soon. I have consistently had a poor garlic crop each year but as we use some much of it in our cooking I'll persevere. We'll see how this year's fares. 

I have previously posted about the potato varieties. These take up a decent sized chunk of the plot and we are fortunate to have the space to grow different varieties and as well as in quantity. We had a poorer crop than usual last year because we were affected by blight. Yet we still have enough to see us through which is what we aim for.

Like the butternut squash, the beans were patchy in their gemination and I have had to re-sow some. The runner beans (White Emperor - which we grow each year - and also Streamline - which I have not grown before). French beans (dwarf and climbing) will be delayed and borlotti beans I will probably omit this year now. I have planted extra runner beans and will use these for dry beans over the Winter instead. No problems with the broad beans which seem to be able to take whatever weather comes their way. I will be harvesting the first of these any day now. We'll eat lots of them fresh and also have a good supply to freeze for future use.

In the salad section spring onions are growing well. They look so fragile when sprouting in pots or modules but once planted out they thicken up in no time. Lettuce I have had to sow a couple of times because of mixed germination, so a little later than usual for the first crops. What else? Beetroot, fennel, chantenay carrots and other things to come.They are planted here in short rows and are mainly those vegetables that are best for successional sowing.

The bottom end of this plot is where the berry fruits are grown: raspberries, black currants, red  currants, gooseberries and blackberries. There is also rhubarb. In our sandy soil its not one to romp away as it does in many others' vegetable gardens but it does well enough. We have a row of autumn fruiting raspberries whose management is rather different from the summer fruiting varieties. This seemed to be running out of steam insofar as  they have become gradually less prolific. In one area nettles have found their way in and I have never been able to fully eradicate them. I decided  to remove the raspberry bushes and start again, possibly with something else. Not being in any particular hurry, I have followed the approach advocated by the emulators of 'No Dig'. The recalcitrant nettles have been cut back. I have covered the four foot by twenty foot strip with cardboard (not black plastic, I might add) and topped it up with four to six inches of compost. I'll take a look a year from now.

Elsewhere there is the greenhouse, which is fully planted up with tender cropping plants, and a herb corner. The fruit trees, many of which are still relatively young, look to be setting fruit. We are expecting a big crop from our biennial fruiting walnut tree, but are unlikely to beat the squirrels to the hazel nuts.

Keeping the weeds at bay is an on-going task but for now they vegetable plots are enjoying the rain.

Still early days for the greenhouse , but here are some photos:-

Sunday 5 June 2022

Elderflower cordial time

Another annual task that marks the progress of the year. Around here the elderflowers were about two weeks later than usual. This was possibly due to the relatively cold Spring we had. The common elder is perhaps too coarse and vigorous for the average garden. But if left unpruned, as they are along a nearby field edge, they look very impressive when in full flower. During May I am always on the look out so that the opportunity to make cordial is not missed.

We hosted an extended family gathering recently (postponed from Christmas 2020 and again from Christmas 2021) and were blessed with fine, sunny weather so we were able to be outdoors. I noticed the elderflower cordial, saved from last year, seemed to go down very well. 

It is easy to make. I usually produce 3 litres at a time and store in the freezer until desired. Over the years I have adjusted the sugar content as some of the recipes suggest more than I think is needed. I find it a very refreshing drink and one I associate very much with summer.

This year's batch

Saturday 4 June 2022

Friday 3 June 2022

When flies strike

As we approach summer and with it warmer, more humid, weather, the risk of flystrike, or blowfly strike, increases. This is a nasty  condition and if gone unnoticed can be catastrophic for affected sheep. Most sheep keepers will apply a preventative spray-on medication at this time of the year which might have to be repeated later in the summer. It works well but is not a guaranteed defence.

One thing I look out for in terms of timing is the sighting of green bottle and blue bottle flies which appear when the temperatures are consistently above 15 degrees centigrade. These are the culprits which lay their eggs in the fleece of sheep (goats and even chickens can also succumb) and when they hatch the maggots start eating into the flesh of the animal. The process is very quick with maggots appearing within three days of eggs being laid. Vigilance is needed and because flystrike develops so quickly I investigate any suspicions straightaway.  

Sheep are very adept at hiding illness which is probably an evolved defence against predation. But subtle changes in behaviour can be considered suspect: not coming for feed; being  detached from the flock; a head down posture. There could be many reasons for these signs but nevertheless it is always worth taking a closer look. If caught soon enough flystrike can be treated successfully. Badly affected sheep have a urine-like smell  and their fleece feels damp. At this stage their survival chances are much diminished.

Our flock of twenty or so ewes and lambs are having their annual summer sojourn at a nearby farmer's field, taking advantage of some fresh grazing. I call by twice a day and give some supplementary feed. They don't really need it but it is an effective way of seeing them all close up and checking for flystrike.

Our two rams stay at home. A week or so ago the older ram was slow to come for some feed and then started to keep his distance. This was the trigger to get a closer look. He is not easy to round up but I managed with a shepherds crook hooked around his horns. On close inspection there was indeed some flystrike around the base of his horns and tiny maggots, by the look of them recently hatched, were beginning to feast and on once side the skin had been broken.  I rubbed off all the maggots I could see and a generous application of Crovect (one of the recommended medications) was sprayed round the base of the horns. If there are maggots still in the flesh Crovect will cause them to rise to the surface. More rubbing off of maggots. Salt water was used to flush over the affected area and an anti-bacterial spray applied to where the skin looked raw.  

Our breed of sheep, Wiltshire Horns, are generally less vulnerable to flystrike because of their short fleece but they are not immune. The horn area, especially in mature rams, provides a very close atmosphere around the base and close to their cheeks which is the likely reason why our ram was affected. Luckily it was caught quickly and it was possible to treat him successfully.

Abraham our older ram. Note how close
his horns are to his cheeks, creating the
potential conditions for flystrike.

Barnabas, our younger ram. His horns are
much more widely spaced allowing air to
flow more freely around the face.