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.