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.