Friday, 29 May 2020

May Daze

Come back Rain, all is forgiven
Hot sunny days and lockdown have meant that I don't particularly have to work around the weather or other commitments. I can relax a little more and still keep on top of things on the smallholding.
Having said that, our boom and bust weather patterns do make things more difficult. 7% of our usual May rainfall has necessitated watering in new plantings and watering where I sowed the carrots, one of only two crops which I now sow direct. The parsnips failed to come through this year, so did their replacements. Worse still, the water butts have run dry so I now have to use metered and treated water. At least hoeing has been easy.

The body and soul of the soil
I have steadily been moving last year's compost onto beds. The huge pile is now all gone, but the encouraging news is that I had enough to cover the majority of the 80 or so beds I have. 
It's amazing how much material we produce to feed the compost heaps. Hopefully I can persuade some to break down enough for a mid summer mulch. 

Bee-keeping Update
We have only had five swarms of bees this year so far. Three of them have been huge swarms. One we gave away, the other four we collected and created new hives. One of these disappeared again, so Sue is now left with NINE hives. Her ideal number is three!!!
It looks like a good honey year. Sue has already taken 60 jars of early honey. She is not one to rob the bees of too much and always leaves plenty for the girls. 

A welcome hair cut
The hot weather is hard on the sheep too, so it was a relief for them when the shearer came a few days back. Jason and his wife Chloe are really friendly and fantastic with the sheep. Not only do the sheep get rid of their uncomfortably hot fleeces, but they get their feet trimmed and a dose of Clik to protect against fly strike. It's also a chance for a health check by people who know much more than us and for us to ask any questions we have.
One of our ewes looks suspiciously fat. If she is pregnant, it will be a virgin birth as the three rams have been kept well away. I have my suspicions how it may have happened. We'll see if she really is pregnant and what the lamb looks like if there is one.

Rambo, our breeding ram, has lost a lot of weight and his stools are not solid. We have tried worm and fluke treatment but it has not made a lot of difference. Jason gave him a mineral drench (this is not as it sounds, but simply means given orally) and says that often cures unknown problems. Let's hope.

Respect your Elders

Another feature of this time of year is that the elders come into flower. This is the cue for Sue to make elderflower champagne. The process is very simple. Just dissolve sugar in water, est and juice lemons, add elderflowers.
Stir daily until it starts to bubble from the natural fermentation. Then bottle and burp.
Sue has also frozen about 50 heads. Don't worry, there are absolutely loads left for the birds and insects.

Birdlife on the Farm

These two swallows ended up inside the house.
One found the exit and I caught 
and released the other.
Swallows are now swooping in and out of the stables, robins, blackbirds and starlings are already feeding young. Blue tits and great tits are busy collecting food for young families. A pair of pied wagtails loiter around the stables and often fly out of there as I approach. A couple of years back they nested under some pallets by the polytunnel. Woodpigeons, chaffinches and goldfinches breed in good numbers here and we have a thriving colony of house sparrows. Further down the land there are meadow pipits nesting in the rough grass and skylarks rise high to blast out their song. Wrens sing loudly and are dotted all about the smallholding. We have thrushes breeding on the smallholding too, both mistle thrushes and song thrush. But they are outcompeted in the song stakes by our blackcap which hasn't shut up for weeks now. I saw the male carrying food into a bush in the front garden yesterday.

Above: The rewilded front garden
Below: Native hedgerows as they should look, planted by me 7 years ago.

The Little Owls are incredibly secretive at this time of year. I rarely even hear them. Excitingly though, tawny owls have moved in and I hear them almost nightly. They may have driven the barn owls out though.
Finally we have summer migrant warblers back. Our first singing sedge warbler and whitethroat appeared earlier this week. We had a reed warbler singing from the hedge for a couple of weeks, but it needs to move on and find the right habitat. 
I've probably forgotten a few of our breeding species, but every year we seem to get more and more which is a fantastic result of all the work I've put into creating a nature friendly smallholding.

It's a Rat Trap
One species not so welcome on the farm is rats. The traps are working well and at the moment I am catching young ones. The traps are not live traps but are very secure in terms of not catching non-target species. I leave the dead rats on a post and something takes them.
A few weeks back I was just checking and resetting the traps when one of our geese got trapped inside the brassica netting. In my rush to free it, I misplaced the rat trap (not set to spring) and have been searching for it ever since. Well yesterday I found it as it go mangled by the mower blades. It fought hard though, so I now need to get the blade mechanism fixed.

Poultry News
On the subject of the geese, they are still laying and we are still trying to steal their eggs. However, one is now permanently settled on the nest so we'll leave it to fate whether or not we get goslings this year. 
The glut of goose eggs means Sue keeps busy making cakes. We freeze these and they are an extremely good way of storing a surplus of eggs. Goose eggs make the best sponge.

In other poultry news, one of our turkey hens managed to hatch out three healthy poults. We put them in the poultry cage as protection against crows and they are all doing well. The other hen is desperate to sit on eggs but the crows keep finding her eggs. Hopefully she'll find a good spot somewhere in the veg plot or soft fruit patch before it's too late. We are happy to leave this up to fate again.

We have two Silkie hens sitting on Muscovy duck eggs and now one of the Muscovy ducks herself has made a nest in the corner of the chicken house and is sitting. Hopefully we'll end up with a few ducklings. Two of our Muscovy girls are now missing in action. We don;t know if they've been taken by something, moved away or are secretly rearing clutches in some forgotten part of the smallholding.

Clearing the seedling log jam.

Planting out beans. The climbing structures are made from coppiced willow rods
which the sheep strip for me.

With the last frost gone (a really late one would be a bit disastrous) I have been busy clearing the logjam of young plants in the polytunnel. I have moved most of them to benches outside as temperatures have stayed in double figures day and night for quite a while now. 
Corn, beans, tomatoes, courgettes and squashes have all gone into the ground outside. We had a couple of very windy days which was a challenge for the newly planted beans, but on the whole I've never had young plants settle in so well. They usually suffer a setback for a week or so but not this year.

The Rewards

At the other end of this process, we are already starting to get some decent harvests, particularly from the polytunnel which is yielding delicious new potatoes, carrots and mangetout. Once these are harvested their space will be required for tomatoes, peppers, melons and cucumbers. In fact, they are already underplanted. Outdoors we have now stopped harvesting the rhubarb but we have a couple more weeks of asparagus left. The gooseberry bushes are bursting to overflowing and we'll very soon be thinning out the early picking for the sharp gooseberries. The rest are left on to sweeten. 
We have salad leaves coming out of our ears. We have so many different types of salad leaf and can always spice them up even more with edible flowers or herbs such as fennel or oregano.

So, that's about all for now. As you can see, we're always busy on the smallholding. 

Stay safe.

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