Monday 25 December 2023

New leaf for a poinsettia

Here is this year's poinsettia, an undoubtedly festive looking plant. The remarkable thing is that it has lost not a single leaf nor red bract. It is as healthy as the day we bought it more than two week's ago. We located it on the landing so you get a good view of it when going upstairs. It seems to like it here rather than a prime spot in the living room. Normally each year we watch it slowly shed its leaves until it becomes a skeletal eyesore. If I believed in omens I'd count this as one. I hope everyone is having a joyous Christmas.

Thursday 14 December 2023

In contrast...

Shortly after dark today a second sow went into labour. The signs were there this afternoon as she was very agitated and unsettled, so I was anticipating having to do nightime checks. However, when I took a look at 4:30pm she was lying down and had just given birth to a tiny piglet. One hour later there were twelve. Such a contrast to her sister's litter of four ten day's ago. All look in good shape. No assistance from me was needed other than snipping any trailing unbillical chords and spraying with iodine. There was a substantial placenta to take away too.

A litter of 12, 90 minutes after
the first piglet was born.
Note how evenly
spaced the teats are.

Friday 8 December 2023

Plenty of teats to choose from

 A couple of days ago we had a new litter of Saddleback piglets. A rather small litter of four. Although, mum's previous litter was just six. Not a problem really. They are all healthy (two boys and two girls) with good markings. They should grow away well as there is plenty of milk from the 14 teats available.  We have another litter due in a few week's time.


Friday 1 December 2023

Smallholding on frosty mornings

Like most of the rest of the country we have had a hard frost the last two days and the forecast is for a few more days like this to come. Such weather is not unusual, of course, at this time of the year but for a smallholder or similar hard frosts do have an impact.

Tending to the livestock at first light, about 7am at the moment, the water troughs are all frozen as are the poultry drinkers. With the outside taps and hoses frozen too it means going back and forth with watering cans of hot water and breaking the ice in the troughs.  Days like this inevitably mean freezing fingers.

We are expecting a litter of piglets very soon so the farrowing house is well bedded with straw and a heat lamp is set up ready. No new arrivals overnight, however. The livestock cope well with the conditions as they are hardy and well-adapted. Any tender plants still out will be finished off by the frost. Last night I noticed that there has been a sudden fall of leaves and the trees are virtually bare now.

Such early morning routines in frosty weather is not all hardship. If you are wrapped up well, going about routine tasks outdoors can be quite pleasant in the quiet stillness that tends to accompany frosty conditions. And the frost itself is attractive with some interesting rime patterns. Best of all, perhaps, is having completed the early morning exertions outside, coming indoors into the warmth for breakfast. The dogs sit beside you looking at you longingly. The cats curled up in their favourite spots. No other other species is so adept at making itself so comfortable. 

Monday 27 November 2023

The last week of November

A couple of days ago I had my 4th (and hopefully final) eye surgery since the end of July. At last all looks good! I am behind in a lot of smallholding tasks as a result but all the essentials are covered. 

Today is grey, cold and raining but spirits are not dampened.  

The last week of November

Winter darkness slowly begins to lift.

The far line of Scots pines are veiled in mist.

Dawn arrives with a penetrating chill,

On the brink of frost, stagnant, silent, still.

A sullen sky, dull like a pewter shroud

Over the flat, black fields recently ploughed.

The trees have long lost their autumnal blaze,

Their leaves lay limp, flattened by rainy days.

Tranquil ewes cluster around the hay rack,

Some with coloured smudges upon their back.

Beneath the oak cyclamen flower white,

Amidst the gloom a heartfelt fleck of light.

The beaver moon lights up the sky at night,

Portent of a future hopefully bright.

Though November days seem forever bleak,

The season of Advent begins next week.

Friday 10 November 2023

Metal shed experiment


This is our new metal shed, measuring 8' x 6'. It looks very smart. What will not be apparent to onlookers is the agonies and the inordinate amount of hours that went into constructing it, even with the helping hand of my brother. The shed arrived in three packages containing an enormous quantity of components. The instructions were  not easy to follow and in places lacked essential details. An error at one stage in the process meant subsequent steps would not work, leaving no choice but to backtrack and undo an earlier step. 

I have erected wooden sheds of similar dimensions by myself in 2 or 3 hours. We decided on a metal shed with a slab floor to reduce the risk of incursions by rodents. It is to be used as a replacement to our livestock feed shed, so there is good reason to make it as rodent proof as possible.

We have plans for another, larger shed later. I think I'll revert to a wooden construction of my own design, albeit a bit more epensive to build.


Tuesday 24 October 2023

Reliable quince

We picked the remaining quinces off the quince tree today. They are fully ripe and two or three had patches of rot on them so it was time to gather them in. We had another very good crop this year. 

Quinces look so attractive on the tree as they turn golden yellow, late in the year. The dark green leaves, which stll hold their colour, make them shine out all the brighter.

Janet  has already made quince and ginger jam from earlier pickings. Quince jelly, or membrillo, is to come. Today we had quince and apple crumble which is a tasty mix. Janet lifts crumbles by adding a star anise and orange zest to the fruit and by using oats in the topping. I don't mind if crumble is accompanied by custard or vanilla ice cream but when we have guests there is generally a 50-50 split. 

Saturday 14 October 2023

Someone knocking on the door (Wings)

I've been at my desk a bit more than usual recently because of my temporary period of reduced physical activity. For the last couple of days there have been periods of persistent tapping on the window. This turned out to be a Great Tit. Our front door and glass side-pane has mirrored glass and so presumably the Great Tit is responding to its reflection. It's companions have been fluttering about against the glass. 

Crows aside, the commonsest birds we see on our smallholding are Great Tits, Pied Wagtails, Long-tailed Tits at certain times of the year, Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds, Pheasants, Jays and overhead buzzards are very common. I have seen many other species but these are the regular visitors. 

Since avian flu became a big problem three of four years ago we no longer put out bird feeders. In reality around here there is probably enough winter food for wild birds but it was always nice to get close up views. 

Friday 6 October 2023

Joy in all things, including shallots

I think I have had my best year for onions and shallots. They all grew to a good size and were mostly of a uniform proportion. Hardly any showed signs of bolting or thick neck so they look like they will store well. There should be enough to see us through to when next year's crop are ready.

The onions were 'Sturon' which are generally very reliable. They were grown from sets planted out in mid-April. The shallots were 'Zebrune' which are the banana shallot variety. These have to be grown from seed as sets are not available. They are worth the extra effort, though, because you get several bulbs for each seedling planted out, and I think they are the best shallot for cooking with.

Shallot 'Zebrune' - some of this year's crop.

I have been gradually catching up and getting back on top of things on the smallholding after the interruptions of two successive surgeries for a detached retina. Alas, it has happened for a third time and I am back on Monday to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to go through the operation and recovery process again. But this will not diminish my delight in this year's crop of shallots! "Count it all joy...when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness".  

Friday 29 September 2023

Mid-Autumn Festival

Today is the Mid-Autumn Festival when the Moon is at its largest and roundest. In China and Chinese families worldworld there will be a special family meal and sharing of Moon Cake. Mid-Autumn Festival is the biggest Chinese Festival of the year after Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. Its not something we celebrate but we do indulge in Moon Cake. It was too cloudy to get a good view of the Moon this evening so I have included a photo from last year, taken over the fields at the rear of our smallholding.

It doesn't yet feel much like Autumn but the signs are there. A little chilly at first light in the morning and darkness falling quickly in the evening. The chickens take themselves in by 7pm ready to be shut up. Trees are beginning to shed their leaves but they are yet to fall in quantity. The vegetable plot is being tidied as each crop has no more to offer but the mild weather means that some crops are still producing, such as courgettes, beans and tomatoes. There are also pumpkins which we associate with Autumn that are nearly ready.  One sure sign that Autumn is here is that the seed catalogues for 2024 have started to arrive.  

Moon Cake

Friday 22 September 2023

Hummingbird hawk moth

I saw two what I believe to be Hummingbird Hawk Moths feasting on some self-seeded verbena bonariensis growing out of some gravel. It is not a good photograph but you can make one of them out. Their wings beat rapidly as they hover,too fast for a phone camera to catch a sharp image. Their proboscis looks about a centimeter long, arching into the flowers syphoning up the nectar. 

Saturday 16 September 2023

Spinning yarn

Here is another photograph of an exhibit that caught my attention during our recent visit to the Rijkmuseum in Amsterdam. It is a painting, dating from 1529, of a young lady at her spinning wheel. 

I have a number of smallholding friends who process yarn from the fleeces of their own sheep and turn them into marvellous end products. This is not something we have embarked upon ourselves, although it does impress me. 

I imagine all crafters using yarns and fabrics are just as serene as this lady when working on their own projects. 

by Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574)

Sunday 10 September 2023

Prayer nuts

The walnuts are just starting to ripen sufficiently to start harvesting them. We had such a large harvest last year that we are still working through them on a  daily basis. This year's harvest, as expected, appears to be much smaller. 

Looking at the walnuts reminded me of a recent encounter with prayer nuts. Earlier in the Summer we managed to organise cover at the smallholding to spend a few days away visiting our youngest daughter who lives in the Netherlands. We visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which is their main art gallery with exhibits across the ages. This includes many familiar Vermeer's which generates much interest. There is a separate Van Gogh Museum nearby so not many of his works to view at the Rijksmuseum itself. 

One exhibit that caught my eye was examples of prayer nuts. These are tiny boxwood, hinged balls little larger than a walnut. Inside there is the most intricate of carvings. The one in the photograph is of Nativity scenes and it is mounted in a silver casing. It was carved in the Netherlands in the early 1500's. It would have hung from a belt (or perhaps a Rosary) and used as an aid to prayer.

Saturday 9 September 2023

September heat

Today is the sixth consecutive day of plus 30 degree temperatures with at least one more day to go tomorrow, according to the forecast, before cooler weather arrives. Not the usual September weather even taking into account past 'Indian Summers'. One benefit for me of this high heat is that it has been too hot to do more than the usual routine tasks around the smallholding - no projects! This has acted as a helpful brake on trying to do too much too soon following the recent double eye surgeries. Family help, which has been enormously helpful, has been gradually tapering off. 

It has been too hot to take the dogs for a walk, especially Spice our Golden Retriever. However, or puppy, Zelda, still tears around like a mad thing unprompted but sudden suddenly crashes out until the next time.


Wednesday 30 August 2023



Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week the blackberries would ripen.

[from Seamus Heaney, Blackberry-Picking)

I checked the blackberry bushes today, grown  cordon-style on posts and wires.  They are a cultivated, thornless variety so my hands are not "peppered with thorn pricks" as Heaney reminisces and as was the same for us growing up, and later when the children were young. They are beginning to crop well.

Monday 28 August 2023

Happy to see the billowing wheat fields

The combines have been busy and the wheat and barley fields have nearly been harvested in the fields around here. We have had brief rain showers in the last two days but before that a long dry spell. I think in other parts of the country conditions have been more difficult with more  frequent localised rain affecting the harvesting.  

The war in Ukraine is affecting global production and distribution of grain. And China's grain and rice production has been badly affected by the weather. In some parts there have been wild fires and in others, especially the grain growing regions further north, there have been unprecedented floods. We all know why.

I am reading the novel The Good Earth by American writer Pearl Buck (first published in 1931) where weather-induced famine is a central part of the plot. Pearl Buck spent much of her early life in China (her parents were missionaries) and she writes with great knowledge and insight. She won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938 but she is not a writer we hear about much these days.

Here is a traditional Chinese tune played on the Erhu - a two stringed instrument. The Erhu is the most expressive of instruments but this piece is played in an upbeat tempo to convey the delight of the sight of ripening wheat fields.


Thursday 24 August 2023

Sweet corn days of Summer

 The sweet corn crop is ripening so most days we pick and consume some. Deliciously sweet, as those who have grown their own will know. Passing visitors will take some away with them too. As a last resort any surplus will be frozen. Leaving them unpicked for too long is to be avoided as they soon lose their flavour.

In the kitchen various jams, relishes an chutneys have been bubbling away and for us it is also passata-making time as the outdoor tomatoes ripen.  

We are having a massive crop of plums this year and soon we will be dehydrating quantities of these along with apple slices. The apples seem to be ripening early this year.

This morning we collected up a pleasing crop of onions this year. We wanted to get them in as, after a period of dry weather, it is forecast for rain this afternoon. Janet plaited them for hanging up to dry in the workshop. Six plaits plus a few loose for more immediate use.

We have also been saying gradual goodbyes to the piglets as they find new homes. Two more departing to Essex later today.

We have been continuing to get assistance from kith and kin as my activity levels remain restricted. Two weeks after a retinal detachment and emergency surgery I had a second detachment in the same eye followed by more surgery. Then Monday of this week there was concern that a third operation might be necessary. Thankfully this was not the case. I had had a bleed at the back of the eye and a duty eye specialist I had seen at the weekend possibly mistook the resulting blood clot as the retina coming away again.

My vision is still impaired in the affected eye and I have to be careful not to over-exert myself for the time being but matters do now look like they are moving in the right direction at last. No heavy jobs, but I can manage picking sweetcorn.

Tuesday 1 August 2023

News from the greenhouse

The greenhouse is one of the most productive areas per square footage. We have a decent sized one of 16' x 8' which I try to use to the maximum all year round. We have the usual tomatoes and cucumbers which provide seemingly torrential harvests at this time of the year, as well as peppers and chillies. Two crops to highlight this year are aubergines and melons.  After last year's success at growing aubergines in the greenhouse border rather than growing them on in pots I have repeated the same this year with impressive results: lots of large, deep purple aubergines.

I have not grown melons for a couple of years and they have not always been a success. This year I seem to have done something right with several maturing fruits. Most are currently about 7"- 8" in length. The earliest should be ready to pick in a week or two.


Monday 31 July 2023


A week or so ago I experienced a detached retina which, being a medical emergency, meant I ended up at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for a surgical repair within hours of first seeking GP advice. It is carried out with a local unaesthetic and I was torn (no pun intended) between innate curiosity about the procedure and the experiential knowledge of what the surgical team were actually doing to my eye. It was surprisingly more technically complex than I anticipated  but a marvel of medical practice. The surgeon and theatre team, and the unit nursing staff, were excellent. 

Being an entirely unexpected event it was not possible to make any advance plans. The immediate aftercare involved lying down for five days to help promote the initial healing of the re-attached retina and to help keep it in place. Driving for the time being is out of the question. This is somewhat inconvenient for running a smallholding. The recent arrival of two litters of pigs, crops needing to be harvested, along with the routine daily husbandry,  added to the challenge.

However, a combination of brothers and sisters and a nephew, as well as daughters, have stepped in without hesitation, or any solicitation necessary, to provide the most practical support with largely unfamiliar tasks. For this we are most exceedingly grateful. These are precious attachments.

Thursday 29 June 2023

June catch up on the smallholding

It is not yet July and there is a lot of Summer still to come. The hot, droughty conditions have made it feel we are are much further along. Here, we did not have a drop of rain during the whole of May and only a brief downpour a couple of weeks ago.  The oft forecast thunder storms seem to pass us by. Today, however, we had some rain this morning but not nearly enough for growers and livestock keepers. At least it has cooled a little.

Much has happened in recent weeks on the smallholding. The ewes and lambs have just returned after an eight week stay at a neighbouring farmer's field where they get some grazing away from the smallholding. The lack of rain has meant that the grass back home is not especially lush. The lambs have grown well though.

We have had two litters of Saddleback pigs in the last two weeks from first time mums: six and eight respectively. There was no need for a heat lamp as overnight temperatures have been so mild. Their mothers display the usual maternal instincts which Saddleback pigs are often noted for. I'm still weighing up the idea of showing the pigs at the agricultural shows. Plans for this were disrupted by the pandemic. I will be looking out for some show potential among our latest litters.

Speaking of shows, one of our 2022-born Wiltshire Horn rams, now under new ownership, did well at the recent Suffolk Show, gaining a fourth place rosette. He is appearing in the Royal Norfolk Show this week too. Unfortunately we have not been able to attend either shows this year as I have been particularly busy recently on and off the smallholding. On top of which we succumbed to a new puppy. The puppy's mother was found abandoned in poor condition and in an advanced state of pregnancy.

The vegetable plot is pretty full now as is the greenhouse. It won't be long before the first tomatoes will be ready. Outside it has been necessary to do some irrigation to keep some crops growing. Our sandy soil, despite the copious amounts of compost and manure added to it, struggles in the current weather conditions.

We had a reasonable hatch rate for the Norfolk Black Turkeys and the young poults will soon be ready to transfer to their outdoor quarters to grow on. 

Lots to keep busy with. And there is an accumulating list of maintenance jobs I note as I go about my daily routine. I did find time, though, to pot on our Christmas tree into a larger container and it is putting on fresh green growth. Always looking ahead... 

Monday 15 May 2023

May time

The month of May is lush and green with added purple: wisteria, lilac, ceanothus. I enjoy the freshness of each new dawn and the calmness of dusk. But the weather can often be erratic. May always seems a bit hesitant as to whether it wants to be Summer or not. We have had a lot of rain recently, at first with mild temperatures and then, recently, a bit on the cold side. Today the rain has stopped and it turned out to be a warm sunny day. I also heard the first cuckoo of the year coming from the woods opposite.

The vegetable plots and greenhouse are filling up. We are enjoying a generous crop of asparagus again this year. The sheep are on some fresh grazing and are dotted about a field in small family groups with the lambs staying close to their mothers. 

There's lots to do but lots to be thankful for. Here is this year's wisteria show. 

Sunday 2 April 2023

Beside still waters

I was delighted today to see the swan pair returning to the very same nest that they used last year, with a few home improvements evident. There is something reassuring in the seasonal continuity. 

The swans, and later accompanied by their cygnets, spend the Summer slowly sailing up and down the fenland lodes. Their nest is where the dyke has been widened to create a large pond and they have chosen a spot along one of the reedy edges. Their nest remained largely intact over Winter.

They look so calm and quiet going about their business and create a very peaceful scene. To be led beside still waters does indeed restore the soul.  The quietude is in keeping with the solemnity of the next few days and I will no doubt return during the week to come.

Wednesday 29 March 2023

Catch up on the smallholding

It is always busy at this time of the year because of lambing, sowing, outstanding pruning and, as the weather begins to warm up, dealing with sprouting weeds. The clocks going forward to British Summer Time helps with the extra daylight in the evening. 

Yesterday I brought the pigs back in again as the paddocks have become water logged with the recent rain. An unexpected turn after what has been an otherwise dry Spring. 

Apart from the rams, the sheep are all in the barn; four have lambed so far with three more to go. This afternoon, as I was feeding the sheep and replenishing the straw, a first time mum conveniently gave birth to twins when I was there. Two ram lambs. Two hours later they were licked clean, on their feet and suckling. Always a relief when a first timer takes to it straight away. 

Today the temperature was a bit higher and is forecast to stay that way for a few days at least so hopefully it will help get the grass growing. 

The ducklings we acquired as day olds are now four weeks old and have grown very rapidly. I let them out into their run today for the first time. No doubt later I will have to show them how to return to their housing for the night. They will eventually get the hang of it.

I have potted on the tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and chillies. In the last week or so I have additionally sown: leeks, banana shallots, cabbage, cauliflower, spring onions, lettuce and beetroot. I have also started to sow some annual flowers. More vegetables and flowers to sow this week and next. I will begin planting potatoes soon, too, and setting out the onions. 

The lawn that was sown last November has come up very well and this week, before the rain resumed, I gave it its first cut. It is a dense rich green and rather overshadows the adjacent established lawn. 

There is lots of Spring colour coming through now including bright yellow forsythia and, in contrast, the metallic blue anemone blanda. What really signposts the end of the bleakness of Winter for me is the long boundary hedge of hawthorn and blackthorn now springing into leaf.  


Thursday 16 March 2023


No more lambs yet, just the twins born a couple of days ago. In between checking the ewes and the usual daily routine tasks I spent part of yesterday and today removing three substantial shrub stumps. Along the side of our house, perhaps fifteen or so years ago, some shrubs were planted by the previous owner. They were probably intended as quick space fillers. They were fairly unremarkable, unchanging, shrubs, the sort you see in landscaping in supermarket carparks. 

I thought this was a wasted opportunity for a south facing wall. Especially as most callers come to the back door and so always walk past it. There is a wisteria which looks good when in flower but the large bulky bushes have made it difficult to train it to best effect. I'm keeping the wisteria.

I have removed quite a number of roots and stumps over the years and it is always a tough, potentially frustrating, job to do by hand. Several spade handles have been snapped in the process trying to lever out stumps prematurely. The largest of the shrub stumps in question was a good three feet in diameter. I tried not to think about the end goal too much, and instead worked away steadily with thoughts on other things. There is always a lot of satisfaction, however, when the stump is finally freed.   

Another reason for working at the job in a steady fashion is that I have had a sore back. A couple of months ago I strained my back but after a few weeks it had healed and was back to normal again. Naturally I resumed abusing my back in the the usual way. Then last week I felt another warning twinge. I promised myself to take fewer risks in future as bad backs and smallholding are not remotely like a horse and carriage, let alone love and marriage.

Anyhow, we now have a 30' x 5' south facing border to contemplate how best to plant up. At the moment I'm thinking of late Spring flowers and bulbs to go with the wisteria, followed by Summer annuals. A border where you can ring the changes.

Tuesday 14 March 2023

Ups and downs of lambing

Lambing this year did not get off to a good start. The first ewe to deliver had stillborn triplets. We suspected she was imminent because of her size but she did not show any of the usual signs that labour was soon to commence: restlessness, foot scraping, panting. When I checked the ewes late Sunday night she was lying down with the tip of a hoof barely showing. Thinking this was the moment I left her for 30 minutes and when I returned to the barn there had been no further progress and she did not appear to be pushing. The ewe clearly needed some assistance and when I felt what was going on there was an 'off' smell which is not usual. I found both legs and pulled the lamb out, fairly sure it was not alive. This was indeed the case.  

I felt inside again in case there were twins and I could feel another. Fortunately I could feel the front legs and the head so was able to pull this one out too. A further check detected the third of the triplets and this was retrieved too. Both, like the first, were dead. Three 'normal pulls', so no physical trauma sustained by the ewe. If the legs are in the wrong position there is a risk of tearing the uterus when manoeuvring them so that the lamb can be pulled out. 

I phoned the duty vet as I was concerned for the ewe but based on the information I gave her she did not feel any intervention beyond monitoring was required. She pointed out that if a lamb does not engage for some reason then the ewe does not experience the impulse to push and this understandably hinders the delivery. I suspect the large size of the the first lamb might be implicated here. 

I had to milk the ewe a few times to reduce the risk of mastitis in the absence of suckling lambs. She seems to be okay.

This morning when I went to the barn first thing there was a second ewe, but this time licking her twins which by the look of them had been born in the previous hour. Two healthy ewe lambs who were soon on their feet suckling from their attentive mother.

Wednesday 8 March 2023

February Gold

A little colour on a grey, cold, and for a time, snowy day. Narcissus 'February Gold' at the foot of a hydrangea. They are by some steps leading to the lower part of the garden so I pass them several times a day.


Tuesday 7 March 2023

Another go for the apricot tree

The young apricot tree is flowering well again this year. The pretty blossoms open early in the year but at the risk for future fruiting. Alas, we have a hard frost forecast for tonight. I have shrouded the tree in fleece for a little bit of protection. We may yet improve on last year's solitary ripe apricot.

Sunday 5 March 2023

Ducklings 2023

We collected a new batch of day old ducklings during the week. Here is a photograph of them at two days old. They are huddling together under a heat lamp for warmth. They will grow very quickly and should be more or less feathered up after four weeks at which point they will progress to a house and run outside if all is well with the weather.


Thursday 2 March 2023

Supermarket vegetable supplies

A team of Bulgarian workers laying a black plastic sheet to warm the soil nearby, helping to overcome the current vegetable shortage and fill supermarket shelves in a month or two's time with salad crops. The rows of fleece already have seedlings planted out. 

In the news today is a report that there has been a 50% rise in demand for vegetable seeds. The same happened in 2020 when coronavirus arrived and many seed orders could not be fulfilled by the seed companies. I'm not sure if this includes a rise in demand for turnips ready for next winter.

Temporary blips or an increasingly common occurrence? There are grounds for suspecting the latter.


Tuesday 28 February 2023

Time for the ewes to come in

Time to bring the ewes into the barn. Still ten days to go before the first lambs are expected but it is good to get them settled in. There is rain forecast on and off for the next week and it is better to bring sheep indoors when they are dry. With very little grass to nibble, they are mainly eating hay and some supplementary feed. Wiltshire Horn sheep are fine for lambing outside but I find indoor lambing much easier to manage, especially if any births are going a little wayward. Some mild weather now will be helpful to get the grass growing again.

New this year: fixed gutters instead of troughs




Monday 20 February 2023

Sow, sow, sow time

A little later than I had intended (but actually with plenty of time to spare still), I commenced sowing some of this season's tender crops: aubergine 'Genie', sweet pepper 'New Ace', sweet pepper 'Demetra', chilli pepper 'Tabasco'. These have all been put into a heated propagator in the utility room. I also sowed some banana shallots 'Zebrune' which are being started off in the greenhouse. Lots more to follow over the ensuing days and weeks.

The vegetable plots have been mulched, fruit trees pruned, berry bushes cut back and new canes tied in, hedges trimmed, seed potatoes are chitting and the asparagus bed ready for the off. Still to do is tidying up the flower borders, some shrub pruning and, once the winter crops are cleared, cleaning the greenhouse glass.

Today I finished off making the barn ready for the expectant ewes. I'll bring them in next week. 

There's always lots more jobs to do, of course, but the main Winter tasks are complete so I will be able to keep focused on sowing, pricking out, sowing, potting on, sowing, planting out and sowing.  

Thursday 16 February 2023

I saw the cygnets

Along the dyke in the field opposite our house I saw three of the 2022 born cygnets, last spotted back in November. If their siblings survived (eight were hatched back in May) they were nowhere to be seen. Nor were the parents who I guess will soon be preparing for the cohort of 2023.

Monday 13 February 2023


I have been busy on the smallholding carrying out a number of small but necessary tasks as we approach Spring and a new growing season and lambing time. The extra daylight hours and the recent clement weather has been very helpful to this end. I have also been busy with a non-smallholding related project, hence the recent scarcity of posts. 

Today was an important day because we collected a new boar. Our old boar, Alfred, was too large and heavy for the two young gilts we have been growing on and he has gone on to pastures new. 

We have been looking for a new young boar for a little while but registered pedigree Saddleback boars are not easy to source. There are in fact currently only just over one hundred in the UK. There will be more soon as breeders will be producing new litters but we needed one that is mature enough to service our gilts who are just reaching breeding age.

Before we found our new boar I used AI (that is artificial insemination, not artificial intelligence) on one of the gilts, who looked like she was in season, two weeks ago. We saw a young boar advertised not too far from us in Downham Market and went to view him last week. Today we brought him home.

We have named him Beowulf (all our pigs have Anglo-Saxon names, and you can't get more Anglo-Saxon than that). He was born last July so is only 7 months old, but old enough to do what we expect of him. He is being kept apart from the other pigs for a week and then they will be moved in with each other. In the photographs you might observe slight foaming at the mouth. He can detect the ladies but has no access to them yet.

He is a fine looking British Saddleback boar and has all the required characteristics to be registered pedigree. For those in the know, his sire bloodline is Consort and his dam is Lottie.

Monday 23 January 2023

Hoar frost

We are experiencing a second protracted period of hard frosts, like December just gone, with temperatures remaining below freezing all through the day. Back to lugging buckets of water back and forth because of frozen outdoor taps and hoses and breaking the ice in water troughs. 

I had another delivery of straw last week for bedding the pigs. The fleece of the sheep are frosted but they do not seem to mind. They get through their hay far quicker because what grass there is at this time of the year is frozen stiff. 

The last few days has seen the preponderance of hoar frost giving the surroundings a winter wonderland appearance. It looks very pretty if you care to look up and about. The feathery white hoar frost forms when the water vapour in the air rapidly forms ice  crystals when it comes into contact with already frozen surfaces. As more water vapour comes into contact the ice crystals continue to grow.  

Looking up the meaning of 'hoar', it is an Old English word for grey and the connection to hoar frost is grey beard which in a way hoar frost resembles. I assume 'hoary' refers to a traditional piece of knowledge extrapolated from greybeards being associated with elderly wisdom.

Hazel tree covered in hoar frost

Hoar frost close up

Friday 20 January 2023

Fiery sunsets

As the BBC local news website points out, the frosty weather has resulted in some stunning sunsets every evening. The flat, fen landscape, with its big skies, enhances the effect. Here is one looking across the fields from our house, snapped on a phone.

Tuesday 17 January 2023

Percy Webb, 1920 - 2022

This morning I went to the funeral and burial of Percy Webb. He died on Christmas Day aged 102 years. He would have been 103 in a few weeks time. I often chat to his son Stuart who farms the land within which our own smallholding is entirely encircled, except for a dissecting road in front of our property. 

I last spoke to Percy the Summer following his 100th birthday. From time to time I would bump into him as I walked our large enthusiastic golden retriever and he was slowly driving around the fields in his old Volvo. We made the same joke every time. Percy would ask if the dog was taking me for a walk and I would ask if he was checking up on 'young Stuart' (now in his seventies). 

Percy's mental faculties remained sharp to the last. He was a mine of local historical information and he shared with me some of the history of our own property as well as that of the farm, especially during the war years and the help received from the county War Agricultural Executive Committee ('War Ag'). As a farmer he was in a reserved occupation so was not called up, although he was a corporal in the local Home Guard. He married a young lady from the Land Army who was working on the local farms during the war. She hailed from Long Melford, to the south of the county. 

One poignant aspect of Percy's local historical knowledge has been evident in a recent series of articles in the parish magazine. Each issue has been attempting to flesh out the stories of the names listed on the parish war memorial: those who lost their lives in WW2, mostly when aged in their early twenties. These, of course, were all village contemporaries of Percy and with whom he grew up with and went to school with. These articles include Percy's personal memories of each of the individuals, some he knew better than others. 

Percy's own farming history is as interesting as the great age he reached. His mother died when he was 10 years old and his father died when he was only 15. The farm was left in the hands of Percy and his brother who was two years older. Their uncle, also a farmer, helped out but by the time Percy was 19 they ran the farm themselves. Percy's brother died when he was only 45. Percy was still driving tractors and helping Stuart out a bit into his nineties. Having farmed for so many years he had a profound knowledge of the land and particular growing conditions associated with each part of the farm, knowledge which son Stuart has inherited.

Not surprisingly there was a large turnout for today's funeral. Many of the now elderly friends, neighbours and farming fraternity attending had known Percy since they were children. I was glad to have been acquainted with him and pleased to have been part of today's events.

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Home produce

Here's what home produce we have been eating of late:-

Straight from the plot

Leeks Cabbage
Jerusalem artichokes

From the greenhouse

Chinese cabbage,

(Both survived the hard frost in December, but the 'Winter Gem' lettuce was decimated)

Dry stored

Potatoes of different varieties, used depending on the cooking method,
Dried beans for stews,

From the freezer

French Beans 
Broad beans 
Mainly used in desserts:-
Apple slices

Store cupboard



Apple slices 

Missing in action this year: Carrots, parsnips, garlic, celery. The Summer drought made for some tough growing conditions on our sandy soil during 2022.

And of course we produce all our own meat (excepting beef which we therefore virtually never eat) and eggs.

Thursday 5 January 2023

Egrets, I've had a few

Well actually one. Walking along Baldwins Lode, a nearby fenland drain, I saw a Little Egret. I see them from time to time but more commonly the much larger heron. The Little Egret's plumage is the purest of white and so it is easy to spot if there is one around. Unfortunately, I was too far off to catch a photograph of it and as I got nearer it took off. 

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Monday 2 January 2023

Chopping wood, cleaning pots and Percy Thrower

I've been spending much of the time today tidying up here and there outside. As our log splitter has a malfunction I also had to do some manual wood chopping as the Summer stocking up has now depleted. The wood is mainly poplar which burns through rather quickly but the wood is free and plentiful from our own trees. 

One of the tidying up jobs was to clean some small pots used for potting on seedlings. I use large quantities during the growing season. I normally clean them as I go along but there were some left over still sitting in the workshop, taunting me each time I went in and out. These are the sorts of necessary jobs that don't get a mention on Gardeners' World nor on inspirational You Tube videos but are nevertheless part and parcel of good horticultural practice. 

There is a lot to be said for the now out-of-fashion gardening exponents such as Percy Thrower, Fred Downham, Geoffrey Smith and that fine illuminator of the Victorian Kitchen Garden, Harry Dodson. All brought up in the head gardener or the municipal parks department tradition of thoroughness and attention to detail.

A few years ago I installed and outside sink
for essential cleaning jobs