Thursday 18 April 2024

Potato plantings 2024

I finally planted out the seed potatoes today. I kept to tried and trusted varieties this year except for one I grew for the first time last year and we thought was worthy of repeating. This was the main crop variety Caledonian Rose. I was late harvesting them because of last year's eye problems but when I did, well into the Winter, they were virtually blemish-free. Caledonian Rose proved to be a good all-rounder in the kitchen, too. They also stored very well. This is an important quality for us as we aim to grow enough potatoes to see us through the year. 

So, for this year's potato plantings:-

Charlotte x 2 rows

Red Duke of York x 3 rows

Caledonian Rose x 3 rows

Pink Fir Apple x 1 row

Caledonian Rose
Photo courtesy of Kings Seeds

Tuesday 16 April 2024

When Great Trees Fall

After a welcomely clement weekend it has turned cold again. Yesterday we had very strong winds and intermittent rain and hailstones. Not so nice for us nor for any tender plants beginning to poke their heads above the soil.

We also had a large poplar tree go down on our boundary. This is the third tree on our holding to fall due to the weather since last Autumn. We have occasionally lost a tree during a storm but three in a short space of time is a bit of a niusance to say the least. It involves a lot of chainsawing and clearing up afterwards, and also the task of processing the debris. There is a lot of brush to dispose of whilst the logs suitable for the log burner have to be stored somewhere to dry out and season. With three trees down in a relatively short space of time this is proving a challenge. 

When we lose a boundary tree they usually fall on to the neighbouring farmer's field. He has been most helpful in helping to deal with it, inluding pulling the tree clear of the boundary dyke with a tractor. The trees tend to fall his way because of the direction of the prevailing winds and the way the trees lean. Yesterday's tree, which was about eighty feet high, fell in our direction, however. The photograph below shows the top half of the tree. Apart from clearing the tree there is some fencing that needs replacing as well a metal field gate which took a battering. It is rather a distraction in what is a busy time of the year on the smallholding.


At the same time there is a tinge off sadness for what was a substantial tree and the space it once filled. Although I would not regard this poplar as a 'Great Tree' it does bring to mind a poem by Maya Angelou.

When Great Trees Fall

By Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.

Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,


gnaws on kind words


promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their


now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

radiance, fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of

dark, cold


And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed. 

Tuesday 9 April 2024

First asparagus of the season

Today I picked our first bunch of asparagus of the year from our asparagus bed. Always a good sign that Spring is well underway (although today's cold and windy weather did not feel like it). I'll be picking asparagus regularly now for the next six or eight weeks. We have visitors this weekend so they are in for a culinary treat. 


Sunday 7 April 2024

What happens to our weaners?

We had two litters of piglets last December, 17 piglets in total. We do not usually have problems dispersing them by the time they are weaned. Often it is to people buying two weaners at a time to grow on for the freezer (we would never sell one on its own unless the buyer already has some pigs). We usually grow on two a year for ourselves  for the same purpose and sometimes we grow on some for people who have asked us to reserve for them a half pig of butchered pork. Others want them for breeding.

It is always especially pleasing if our weaners are bought for future breeding stock. As it happens, for our December progeny, 15 of the 17 have been acquired for that very purpose, mostly to those seeking pedigree British Saddlebacks, which is the breed we keep.  

From an earlier litter, born last July, there was one boar piglet which looked particularly impressive. We decided to grow him on to see if anyone might be interested in a breeding boar when he was more mature. This has proved to be the case and he is shortly moving to Scotland to a British Saddleback breeder.


At the end of 2023 there were in fact only 96 registered pedigree British Saddleback boars in the whole of the UK (and 347 registered pedigree sows) recorded in the annual British traditional breeds census carried out by the British Pig Association. Its important that there are enough people, often smallholders, keeping the rare and minority pig breeds going.  

One of the problems with such small numbers is that the gene pool is relatively small and so breeders have to be aware of the bloodline of the breeding pigs they acquire to minimise any problems of inter-breeding. Paradoxically it is growing rare breed pigs for meat that ensures the survival of the breeds.  

Sunday 31 March 2024

Easter on the smallholding

 It is Easter Sunday. We are going to have an easy day on the smallholding with just essential tasks to do. Lamb for dinner.

Monday 18 March 2024


Our long front boundary hedge of about 200m is made up of hawthorn and blackthorn with a bit of dogwood in places. Because I keep it fairly well trimmed we only ever get a light scattering of flowers along the hedge. Blackthorn flowers at this time (hawthorn comes later). The white blossom is very attractive and a welcome sight on untrimmed hedgerows as Winter turns to Spring.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is not usually regarded as a garden-worthy shrub. It is certainly valued for its hedging capacity and, for some, the sloes that appear in the Autumn to make sloe gin. But the one inch long thorns which set hard in Winter are quite vicious. I have had the experience of a thorn penetrating the sole of my wellington boot and stabbing my foot before when trimming the hedge. Blackthorn also has a reputation for suckering and spreading if left untamed. During the Summer, after the flowers are finished, it is not, to be frank, a shrub that is readily noticed.

Blackthorn might be regarded as a bit of an underdog as far as shrubs or small trees are concerned. But just a hundred yards away there is a fifteen foot high blackthorn that has been left to its own devices and is now in full flower. It looks stunning.

Friday 15 March 2024

Spring Dawn

Our apricot tree has been in full flower the past week or two, the best its ever been. The blossom arrives well before any green leaves appear. So far there has been no frost to spoil the flowers - we may yet get a crop for once this year! The pink blush flowers are very pretty but delicate. They don't last long and sure enough today's wind and rain will hasten their demise. 

There is a Tang Dynasty poem by Meng Haoran 孟浩然 (689 - 740) which captures a similar observation. But perhaps the poet was referring to the fragilty of life or the transience of youth or the impact of hardship. Who knows? My hope is for apricots.

Here is one translation of this poem:-

Spring Dawn

Sleeping in spring not feeling the dawn,

Birds can be heard twittering everywhere.

The night comes bringing the sound of wind and rain,

Do you know how many flowers fell?


Monday 11 March 2024

Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay

I've recently read a book I came across titled Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay by George Ewart Evans. It was first published in 1956 and is based on interviews of farm workers and villagers from the village of Blaxhall in East Suffolk. It contains much detail on day-to-day life. Many of the interviewees were reminiscing about farm and village life in the early part of of the Twentieth Century and therefore the book is a valuable contribution to agricultural history and of rural Suffolk in particular. George Evans wrote a number of books on a similar theme which I hope to also track down.

This book reminded me of the rather more famous and much acclaimed book Akenfield by Ronald Blythe which now has the status of a Penguin Classic and also inspired a film of the same name. This work too was based on interviews of residents in a Suffolk village. 

I felt an urge to re-read Akenfield which I enjoyed doing so very much. There was one passage that made a particular impression and, among other things, added to my fascination of the history of droving and the role of drovers.

Anyone who keeps livestock will be familiar with the challenges of moving animals: from one field to another, or loading them on to a trailer, for example. In my experience pigs are the biggest challenge. Sheep have a strong herding instinct and generally keep together and follow one another. If necessary, when loading a trailer, a bit of cajoling can help. I go through this process every Summer when I take them to a nearby field that a farmer friend lends me for extra grazing. I wouldn't risk driving them along the road!

With adult pigs the only means of success is gentle persuasion, usually with a bucket of feed. You have to allow them to move in their own time and they can easily get spooked. It involves a good deal of preparation to get it right first time. To load them onto a trailerwill take either two minutes or two hours. 

Here's the related extract from Akenfield where a farm labour recalls one of his first jobs aged only 13:-

"The second week that I was at this new farm I had to drive a herd of cattle to Ipswich. I was thirteen and had lived only ten miles away all my life, but I had never been to this big town before. The farmer went ahead in his trap and waited for me at Ipswich market. He sold the cows and bought some more, and told me to drive them back to the farm. Most of my work was like this, walking cattle along the roads backwards and forwards to the market - twenty-five miles a day."

And all for 4s. 6d. per week.

Friday 23 February 2024

A start with sowing

I am still catching up on some of the autumn and winter tasks delayed because of the successive eye surgeries in the second half of last year. And the recent wet weather has not helped either. We are beginning to enter the more time-dependent jobs of spring, such as seed sowing. This does not really get underway for me until the beginning of March. One exception is aubergines which tend to need a longer growing season and I like to get them sowed in February. The seedlings need a bit of looking after until it is safe enough to transfer them to the unheated greenhouse, usually at the end of April, although a look out for late frosts is still needed.  Aubergines usually do well for me and last year in particular we had a bumper crop.

There is a sketch by Van Gogh called The Sower which I rather like. Van Gogh painted and drew quite a few versions of The Sower. The one here is a copy of a painting he admired by Jean-Francois Millet who was a French artist noted for his images of rural and peasant life. 

The Sower after Millet, Van Gogh.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. 

Yesterday a photograph came my way online, posted by a rural history website of a farm worker broadcast sowing a field. It was undated but possibly 1930s, certainly pre-mechanisation. It struck me how much it resembled the Van Gogh image.

Very different from my carefully placed aubergine seeds, three to a 3" pot.

Sunday 14 January 2024

Swans on the River Lark


A photograph taken a couple of week's ago of swans on the River Lark in our nearest town, Mildenhall. The River Lark flows from Bury St Edmunds to Prickwillow where it joins the Great Ouse, then on to Kings Lynn and The Wash. Barges at one time used to run between Kings Lynn and Bury St Edmunds carrying beet for the sugar beet factory harvested from Fen farms. 

The recent heavy rainfall saw the Lark around here overflow its banks. The surrounding open space acts as a flood plain so no damage to buildings or roads was incurred.

Friday 5 January 2024

This is the time to be slow

The New Year has brought with it some challenging weather conditions. When I saw the sheep huddling together along a hedgerow, seeking shelter from the wind and rain, it reminded me of a poem by the late Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue which captures this image. But he was not referring to sheep. 

As we enter a new year I am contemplating all the outstanding tasks on the smallholding which I am slowly catching up on after last year's interruptions. I also thought of Ang's chosen word for the year on her Tracing Rainbows blog - Pace, which I think is appropriate for the circumstances. 

All relatively insignificant in the light of current world events or indeed other's private distresses, maybe. I like to think all can come good in the end whatever our individal contexts in life.

This is the time to be slow,

Lie low to the wall

Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,

Time will come good;

And you will find your feet

Again on fresh pastures of promise,

Where the air will be kind

And blushed with beginning.

          John O'Donohue (1956 - 2008)

Photo: Helen Wilkinson, Wiki Commons