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