Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The summer time of my life

20th July 2016
50! How did that happen? I am 50 years old!
I used to say I still felt 20 in my mind and about 70 in my body but I think that's changed a little now. I think I think a little more old these days, so maybe 30 in my mind, though some would say more like 6! And that's partially true too, which is why I am such a brilliant teacher. I am also starting to benefit from the confidence of age.
As for the 70 in body, to be fair there are days when I feel I can do anything and days when every single inch of my body seems to ache and groan.
I have done a lot in my 50 years on this planet (not that I spent any time before that on another planet, though again some would disagree). I don't intend to do quite so much in the next 50 years, but I do intend to savour and enjoy most of it.
I don't really do birthdays, or any celebrations for that matter, but especially not birthdays. My preference would have been that it pass by largely unnoticed. I got as close to this as was probably possible and celebrated with a quiet meal out with Sue in the evening. I splashed out and went for almost the most expensive thing on the menu but there was no way I was paying an extra £2 for a sauce to go with my fillet steak! That would be too wild a celebration!

There was a better reason for celebration today, for I finished work at midday and I'm not due back in till 1st September.

21st July 2016
Back to normal today.
One of the young chicks in the broody box was clearly not well today. I tried gently holding its beak to the water trough, I placed it under the electric hen to warm up, but as usual when a bird is ill it did not respond. After a couple of hours I decided to end it quickly. Better for the chick and better to remove it from the others too. Five years ago I would have struggled to do this and put it off, but I have hardened up now. I still quietly say sorry and I still have a sad feeling in my heart. Compassion sometimes means being decisive.
The turkey family picking through the cut grass
With the protracted spell of summer proper, I took advantage and started mowing the lawns. They've got out of control again and the mower needs a new blade so it was slow work. I just mowed paths through the sward to allow the air in and the grass to dry a little.
This year's lambs in the foreground
Next job on such a fine day was another chemical attack on those nasty nettles and thistles. I've left a few patches for the wildlife, but any others that spring up need to be dealt with harshly, particularly since I seem to have become very reactive to nettle stings, an almost daily occurrence which needs nipping in the bud. I resprayed the electric fence line too. This tactic seems to be working well. I'd rather not use any spray but needs must. Physically controlling the weeds and the growth under the fence are not possible on this scale. I use minimum sprays and just about everything else I do on the smallholding is pretty much for the benefit of wildlife.

That's shallot of shallots!
Last year's stored onions have come to an end now and this year's are not quite ready. It's not looking like a great crop coming so thank goodness for the shallots, which were ready to harvest today after a few sunny days to dry them out.


Lady Penelope, Single Parent
There was still time to lop some of the trees along the boundary. The branches go to the sheep who love stripping off the leaves and the bark. Nothing goes to waste here. It was while I was doing this that I spotted Lady Penelope Peacock and she was accompanied by a single poult, now large enough to be showing a clear crest. I had not seen her for a couple of weeks and was fearing for her.

The days are long now so I can get stacks done when I'm off work. But darkness still comes in the end and todays dusk brought with it a calling Little Owl in the old ash trees and a calling Barn Owl, a nice combo.

22nd July 2016
Chicken in a basket box
Every day now I move the Ixworth chicks outside into a large dog cage on the lawn and every night they go back into the garage under the heat lamp. The accommodation en route is cosy!

Bad service
I finally managed to get through to someone to order a spare rotavator belt and mower blade. It's taken three phone calls and two ignored emails to finally get someone who didn't pass the problem on to an empty phone extension. It took 18 minutes on the phone and I'm not confident I've moved much further forwards despite the promises. It's a shame as Abbey Garden Sales have provided me with good service in the past but I am now starting to see the reasons for other people's bad reviews.

Harvest news
The first tomatoes are ready in the polytunnel and they are looking good! These are Black Cherry, Gardener's Delight, Golden Sunrise and Honybee.

There were more raspberries to be had today too. It really is a good crop this year. Delving a little deeper in the polytunnel, I came across a couple of yellow courgettes I'd missed. Here they are dwarfing the first cucumber of the year!



Some crops are already over though. Sue went out to do one final pick of the yellow mangetout plants but they were going over so the geese got a few. We've got  loads in the freezer already along with the green ones from the tunnel. Fortunately I managed to stop Sue in time to leave a few plants still standing. These are a heritage variety and I want to save the seed.

You know those jobs you keep putting off because you just know something's going to go wrong and you wish you'd never started? Well today I plugged the ride-on mower into the charger. If the battery charges up then I've just got to persuade it to start for the first time this year and to keep going. Reliability has never been my Mountfield mower's strongest point. If it had a name it would be called Flimsy!

And finally my nature note for today.
There have been strange calls coming from the ash trees for the last couple of days. In the past these calls have had me stumped, but now I recognise them as the calls of young Green Woodpeckers. Today I was lucky enough to see one of them perched out in the open on a branch next to its parent. They have timed it incredibly well, for today was also the day the ants came out. Every year they find their way into the house and swarm all over the windows. The delights of countryside living.

23rd July 2016
Harvest speeds up
Minipops
Some of the sweetcorn in the polytunnel is going absolutely bananas. In fact it actually resembles a banana plantation in there. The outdoor crop isn't far behind either.
Surprisingly the biggest plants belong to the variety Minipop. This is a corn grown for its baby cobs. You don't get a huge harvest but it adds variety and is a high value crop.
It is ready to pick as soon as the tassles appear. No need to wait for them to be pollinated. In the polytunnel I am also growing normal sweetcorn, so I actually removed the male flowers from the top of the minipop plants today so they wouldn't cross-pollinate the other variety. Hopefully this won't stem the flow of min cobs.
A word of caution here. Parts of the plant would appear to be razor sharp! A couple of slashes across my fingers are testament to this.



Anyway, after much dehusking (great material for the compost heap) I ended up with 26 baby corns to go in the freezer. There are a lot more to come too.
Gooseberry gazumped!
I moved on to harvesting the last of the gooseberries ... except they were all gone! Something had got to them first. Oh well. Not to worry. Next year I'll pick them all when they are harder and sharper. That's the best quality about gooseberries anyway.
Champion.
I moved on again, this time to the peas. I've not grown conventional peas for a few years now because of the pea moth which has a nasty habit of depositing maggots inside the pods. But this year I am trialling an old-fashioned tall pea, Champion of England. I sowed it late, at the end of April, in an attempt to avoid the period when the moth lays its eggs. Today the first plump pods were ready for picking. As ever with fresh peas they tasted amazing, little globes of summer sweetness. As this is a climbing variety they should crop over a longer period which means I can graze them rather than harvesting the whole lot at once.

Saving the Tomatoes
Another of the outdoor crops is under serious threat though. For it was only a matter of time before the potato blight spread to the tomatoes. A couple of the leaves were showing the first signs of attack today. It was time for another major prune of the toms anyway, so I removed all of the lower leaves and any sideshoots. I weeded thoroughly around the plants and tied them to their supports. The whole idea is to reduce the amount of foliage through which the blight spores can attack the plant while at the same time maximising air flow around the plants. I then mixed up a bicarbonate spray and thoroughly soaked every plant. I will repeat this once weekly for a while and with a bit of luck I might just save my outdoor tomato crop.
Outdoor tomatoes are always a huge risk and more often than not they fail. It doesn't matter too much as there are plenty coming from the greenhouse, but a bumper crop once in a while is good for stocking up the freezers with tomato sauce.

With daylight still left I started painting the garage, beginning with a first applicaton of creosote to the wood. Proper creosote is wonderful. I love the smell. It is not as nasty as people make out. In fact, one of the main reasons it's use was severely limited by the EU was to do with a very low cancer risk under specific circumstances. I get the feeling this is more about protecting large corporations rather than for any environmental reasons.

Today's nature notes
The swallow's nest in the chicken feed shed is wonderful, for it is at head level. I can raise the phone above my head and get a great view of the inside. It has been empy for a while now, but today I noticed two eggs inside. It seems they are going for another brood. Wonderful news! I counted another four active nests inside the stables today too.






Dark Daggers
Down in the chicken pen I found a small group of rather splendid caterpillars on a plum tree today. I took photos and then scoured the internet to identify them. I eventually identified them as belonging to the Dark Dagger moth. It has a great name but is actually very drab, unlike its glamorous larvae.



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