Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The best of February

 Monday 27th February 2012 and Tuesday 28th February 2012

Wednesday 29th February 2012
A misty start

I have vowed to see every sunrise this year. Today is the day which means I have to get up for 366 days and not 365!
So, to remind myself why it's worth it, here's a recap of some of the best sunrises of February. Enjoy.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A tale of a fox, some geese and a moorhen.

Sunday 26th February 2012
An absolutely gorgeous morning 
Wild Geese and a Fox
Sunrise brought a still, clear morning with just a hint of a winter chill still in the air. Skylarks were already blasting out their song over the fields. More gulls than usual were flying low over the farm from The Wash. As I headed towards the chickens two geese flew over. Flying away and into the sun, they were giving just a muffled call. I was fairly sure they were Greylags, but was keen to get better views to check. In over a year I've only had one greylag fly over the farm, compared to two White-fronted Geese, so whatever these grey geese turned out to be, they were unusual. I hurriedly finished my morning tasks and went for a stroll to the end of the land, scope flung over shoulder, to scan the fields. Partridges, Red-legged, were everywhere, as were hares. Then what should I see but this.
Look carefully and you will see what for me was a farm first. Only a distant relative of the urban foxes I used to hand feed in London, this creature was more majestic, bushier tailed, and certainly more wary. It raced across the fields, paused to stare at me, then continued when I clapped and took a few steps towards it, despite it's considerable distance from me. The fox appeared to disappear into the dyke further along. Much as I admire foxes, I am now a chicken keeper and do not intend to encourage them. Extra vigilance will be required from now on. Hopefully it will prefer rabbit to chicken!

As I scanned further I could see that the two geese had landed on the river bank over by Coy Bridge, where the swan herd hangs out. I drove round to get better views. They were indeed Greylags, thought they didn't stay long before moving on. Two Goosanders flew over too and there were 14 Tufted Ducks on the Main Drain. Also with the swans for the last week has been a grubby white mongrel goose.

A Giggle Grabbing a Gaggle of Geese
The appearance of the Greylags was quite a coincidence given that today was the appointed day to go and collect our five new geese for the farm.Before we coold make the short journey to collect them, I had first to put the finishing touches to the stock fence and prepare drinking and bathing facilities for them.

We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. All we knew was that the geese were 'tame' and had wandered along the road into our friends' garden about a month ago. All their efforts to trace the owners had failed. We had no plan for catching them or for getting them home. More importantly, no one involved had any experience of handling geese. My internet research had stated that this should only be attempted by those with experience! But Don had advised me to go for the neck with one hand and to hold the wings with the other. I had a felling that this was making it sound more straightforward than it actually would be in reality.
On arrival, one of said geese was being fed bread from the hand. The geese appear to be Embden types, classic stately farmyard geese. We have no idea what sex they are - there seem to be various methods advised for this, all very subjective and none definitive apart from examining their most private parts. I'll wait and see which lay eggs! If they turn out to all be males, well at least we shall have a luxurious Xmas dinner to look forward to.
Unsurprisingly, the wallpaper table which was on hand to provide an alluring ramp did not serve its purpose. That would have been far too easy. Once the first got an inkling of what we were up to, there ensued a comical chase around the garden pond until the five white beasts were herded into a corner near the cars. I took the plunge and grabbed one gently by the neck. Success. I was surprised at how soft and light it was, and at how little struggle it put up. I put it into the back of the estate car, where it flapped and protested, took a seat in the drivers seat (oh how I wish I'd taken my camera) and crapped all over the seat and the handbrake - something that geese do a lot of, and take it from me you don't want to be in an enclosed vehicle with five of them for very long!

It was not long before we had two in, and after improvising a way of keeping them out of the front seat, the last three were captured and loaded. Following my example, others grew the courage to handle the geese too. Once in the car they were surprisingly settled, though corners had to be taken very slowly on the way back. They were clearly not accustomed to travelling in the back of a car! 

When we got back, I reversed the car into the paddock where they will live, flung open the boot and there they stayed.
After a little coaxing, one led the way out and the others followed.

They quickly settled in to their new surroundings.

First contact with the guineafowl.
Stubborn Sow
I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to move Daisy into her new quarters. She has been exceedingly tetchy of late. Hormones. Yesterday Sue tried in vain to give her an injection. It's not going to happen. Today she just kept moving behind Gerald for protection whenever I tried to usher her out of the door. When she did follow the bucket of food, she stood firm at the threshold and would not cross. Eventually, I laid a trail of food and Gerald slowly snuffled his way into the new quarters. So, pigs separated, but both in the wrong place! After well over an hour Daisy followed, so for now they are both together again. Plan B is to leave them to settle, then to persuade Gerald to move back to the old quarters tomorrow and shut the door before Daisy decides to follow.

Tomorrow...Plan B

Now my attention was turned back to the geese. I plan to shut them away at night, even more important now that I know there is a fox about. So far they have proved amazingly  easy to manage. It was easy to single-handedly herd them into the stables.

Here their forced close proximity seemed to bring all the petty squabbles of their past to a head. One seemed to be getting a bit of a pasting. I've learned that the best thing to do is to keep a discreet eye in case things get too serious, but overall it's best just to step away and let them sort things out.

A Farm Tick. Number 97.
Quite a day it was then. But it wasn't finished yet. As I took a stroll down the land with Sue, we spotted the barn owl hunting along the dykes. I saw three swans flying over the fields and joked that the geese might see them and fly up to join them. As I watched them through my binoculars, a moorhen appeared trailing it legs, flying maybe 10 feet low over the ground before disappearing into the dyke. It's taken me over a year to spot one of these from the farm, even though I know they're there, lurking in the dykes and along South Holland Main Drain. Number 97 for the farm list. 100 is now in sight. Maybe even this spring.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Pork flying off the shelves

Look behind you Sue!

They like our pork!
Today we made our third and fourth pork sales. It may not sound like much, but the first was a word-of-mouth customer, and the second was an enthusiastic returning customer. Both are very local. This is exactly the type of sales I want to encourage. As I've said before, we only need a small group of regular customers to enable us to continue our project here. If it doesn't work, Daisy has to go! But it's looking good at the moment. In fact we are already short of sausages, but the chops are proving popular too and people have been keen to try the belly when they realise it's available.

Elvis gets a dusting
The trouble with sitting on eggs all day, every day is that you don't get time for personal hygiene. Sue noticed today that Elvis had a few lice on her. Not a total infestation, but probably not nice for her and a potential health risk. Staying put means she does not get out to dust bathe. In fact, broody hens often need encouragement to leave the nest briefly even to eat and drink. So it was that I dusted her liberally with diatomaceous earth, sprinkling it all around her accommodation too. Even suffering this indignation, Elvis did not budge!
Checking back on my photos, I realised today that Elvis had her first chick on 10th June last year. This will be her third hatching in less than nine months.

New homes for new arrivals
Daisy is beginning to get tetchy and needs separate quarters to Gerald now, so today I put the finishing touches to her stable block.
Tomorrow morning there is a slightly mad plan to collect a gaggle of geese (more on this tomorrow). So another small stable room needed to be cleared out and prepared. Well, the garage has already been cleared along with Daisy's new room. The new goose accommodation was being used to store the logs and coal.
So a total reorganisation of the stables was demanded - not a bad thing as it gave a chance to clean out areas not seen for a year. This kept Sue and I busy for much of the day. I hope the geese appreciate it!
Ready for the geese.

The last hour of the day was spent making a start on the stock fence for the paddock where the geese will spend most of their time. Stock fencing has smaller gaps at the bottom than the top, so that smaller animals can't squeeze through the bottom, but one section had been fixed upside-down! This was the chickens' main way into Don's.
So out came the fencing pliers to prize off the staples. As the posts were all working very loose I took the chance to drive these back in and tamp some rubble in around their bases. I fixed the gate too. Tomorrow morning I will just need to refix the tension wires and bang in a few staples.
Then I have a clever idea for using an old bath for the geese to have access to water.

Owl Activity

Saturday 25th February 2012
While I was pottering in the greenhouse early afternoon, I heard Sue's voice urgently beckoning me. Now, Sue and Gerry like to play chase around the garden. Gerry has the distinct advantage in that he can do vertical. As Sue tapped the Ash tree to encourage him back down, out flew a barn owl, which circled the garden before heading off over the fields. I know they used to roost up in this tree, the biggest and oldest of the four, but there is now a large hole in the trunk which would make a perfect home for a little family of owls. Probably wishful thinking, but I think there's a chance. If Gerry ever finds them, I'm sure he'll get the shock of his life, and maybe a bloody nose to boot!
Later in the afternoon the Little Owl started calling from deep within the hedge again, but this time it was clearly answered by another.
Having endured a Northern European winter, these owls are now on territory and ready to breed early in the year. Other bird species opt to head for warmer climes with more bountiful food, but the pay off is a later arrival on their breeding grounds, not to mention two risky migrations.
On that subject, it won't be too long now before the first of our summer visitors starts to trickle back into the country. Maybe a new species or two for the farm this spring? A repeat of last year's two Black Redstarts and flood of Wheatears would be most welcome. Or even a new species for my British list?

Friday, 24 February 2012


Friday 24th February 2012
Cracking Crackling.
Sue doesn't like pork - or she didn't until she tried proppa pork!
We've now tried the sausages and the liver. Both delicious, and I'm not just saying that. I must say, I had been fearing that I wouldn't be all that impressed, which would have undermined my faith and belief in the way we have raised the pigs and had them butchered. The leg joint we had yesterday was nothing like any pork I've had. The crackling...oh the crackling. So much flavour. And the healthy layer of fat which would put most supermarket shoppers off - well it added the flavour and moisture so lacking in so much pork these days. It actually really annoys me. We're not talking about putting a whole wodge of unchewable fat in your mouth. An animal has given its life (maybe not intentionally or voluntarily) and it seems a dreadful waste if it produces a dry, tasteless lump of fibre.
Today we had two very chunky chops, on the bone and complete with skin for more crackling. Thanks to Jamie for his recipe for Old School Pork Chops with apple and sage.

We had apple wedges in the freezer and the sage came straight from the herb bed. I bet Jamie's never eaten them with Pink Fir Apple potatoes and Swiss Chard stems. All totally scrummy, and everything apart from the apple wedges from our own garden. (The apples came all the way from Don's, over the fence!)

The Swankiest Garage
If you want to buy some Proppa Pork you can pop in and visit us. I spent the whole of today converting a dark, junk-filled, cobwebbed garage space into this...

I'm hoping that the pork sales will tempt people to return to buy our cakes, jams and chutneys, eggs and vegetables either now or later in the year when they are ready.

I've also decided to offer the chance for customers to pick their own herbs to accompany the pork. I reckon that growing my own herbs has saved me a fortune, but for those who don't have the opportunity or inclination, there's nothing so annoying as reaching the point in the recipe where you suddenly realise you need fresh herbs. (Well, actually there are probably a lot of things more annoying! But back to the herbs.) Do you use dried herbs instead? - In my opinion never giving the same intensity of flavour. Do you make a special trip to the shops to buy an overpriced packet of 'fresh' leaves? Or do you just miss out the herbs and wonder what it might have tasted like? I must say, too often I used to take the last option. Now that I have fresh, zingy, flavour-filled herbs growing, I regret never growing them before.
Thyme, rosemary and sage have stood through the winter and are starting to bush up nicely now. The bay tree has supplied us with aromatic leaves, though I think the record cold a couple of nights ago may have knocked it back.
Herbs have the added benefit of deterring all sorts of pests and insects from the veg patch, so I will be introducing as many as possible to the veg beds this year in the style of a traditional potager garden.

Rhubarb magically appears
It disappeared last autumn. Gone. No sign.
Retreated below the soil to build up its strength for what started today. The first buds of rhubarb are swelling up ready to yield their acerbic stems.
At the same time, groundsel, red dead-nettle and forget-me-nots have all erupted into flower. Not the largest, or the gaudiest, but providing a delicate beauty. Though these three plants are only welcome in the wilder parts of the garden. At the back of my mind, however, I seem to recollect that red dead-nettle is a companion plant, maybe for potatoes.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

New growth

Thursday 23rd February 2012
A fiery hole in the morning sky.
How on earth did sunrise leap forward from 8 o'clock to 7 o'clock?!
The warmest day
Today the temperature reached a balmy 18 degrees. Only a couple of weeks ago we had a day when it never got above minus eight. Spring is most definitely on its way. The swan herd is dispersing, larks and thrushes announce the morning, and the resident Little Owl is most vocal of an evening. Fieldfares are less in evidence now, and the peregrine only puts in the occasional show. In fact, I'll take a punt and say we've had our really cold spell now. What we need next is rain, and lots of it. Last year we experienced a very long, cold winter followed by three months of severe drought - a challenging start for our new project. Although we had sufficient rain for the last half of the year, the ground water has still not topped up. You don't need to go far down at all to find bone dry earth.

It's sowing time
In amongst the excitement of our first pork last week, I sowed the first seeds of the year. This is a job which brings joy and hope to my heart, when my intricate plans for this year's garden begin their journey. So last Wednesday the dining room became a potting shed - a status which it will enjoy from now till about April, when all these jobs can be done in the stables or the greenhouse and yet-to-be-built polytunnel. 
My first crop of the new year will be a box of salad leaves - the very same ones which come expensively bagged up in the supermarkets these days. This cardboard box will soon be bursting at the seems with salad leaves which can be treated as cut-and-come-again. The seeds have cost me about 2p! If I get bored with these, I can sow some from a different mix, or add in some herbs such as basil or mint. We really have been eating well since we moved here.
The first harvest on its way.

Once the polytunnel is up and running and when I have more time to focus on growing, it should be possible to produce green salad throughout the year, including such delicacies as corn salad (lamb's lettuce) and winter purslane (miner's lettuce or claytonia). How much would your supermarket charge for such traditional delicacies? 
The rest of the seeds I planted last week have started to spring into growth. It looks as though germination has been good, though a couple of very old seed packets may have lost their viability - but worth a try just in case. I sowed several types of tomato - red, yellow, purple, cherry, plum, beefsteak, many heritage, some modern. These ones will go under glass. Those destined for outside don't need to be started yet.

Looking after your seedlings
At this time of year, these seeds need to be germinated inside and kept at about 70 degrees F. It sounds difficult, but in practice I reckon that means the temperature in a room where the heating comes on to take the chill off the evening. Those which need slightly warmer go nearer the radiator. I like to use half seed trays. Some go under small plastic cloches to create a microclimate, but when I run out of these I slip the trays into sandwich bags. Very inexpensive propagators. I keep a very close eye, and as soon as the first couple of seedlings germinate, off comes the cover. Otherwise the seedlings are at risk of damping off, where too humid conditions encourage fungal infection and the baby plants just rot off at the base. It can quickly spread through a whole tray. This is also a reason not to sow the seed too thickly, as the air needs to be able to circulate around the young stems. As soon as they are big enough, the seedlings will be potted up into paper pots which I spend those long winter evenings making. These are very convenient and free! The best thing is, they can go straight into the ground or into larger pots as the plants grow. The drawbacks, which you don't often read about, are that they dry out quickly so need a diligent eye, and don't be tempted to keep them too wet either, as they can become waterlogged and a bit on the slimy side, which encourages fungal diseases.

Cosmos seedling spring forth.

I have also started my half hardy annuals, some remaining from last year's packets, some collected from last year's flowers. The annual dahlias, rudbeckias, cosmos and french marigolds will add informal splashes of colour all around the garden, as well as tempting in pollinating insects to the vegetable and fruit areas. The French marigolds (tagetes) will be planted all around the tomatoes as they ward off whitefly most effectively.
A few trays were sprinkled with the seeds of woodland strawberries. These will go in the orchard and into the developing forest garden, hopefully to be propagated and more widely planted in the future.

Girl Guinea Goes Own Way

Shutting the doors on Elvis seems to have encouraged Girl Guinea to grow up. This morning she was indulging in a thoroughly satisfying dustbath in Don's garden, in the company of Guinea Guinea. Maybe the flutter of tiny guineafowl wings is in the air. I would love to be able to look out and watch a small troupe of these fowl picking the insects from the flowers and vegetables. They were much treasured for their value in French vegetable gardens of old. When I toured West Africa a few years back, guineafowl were universally known as West African Chickens. They tasted delicious when cooked over an open fire. Maybe, eventually, we will be able to pick off the occasional bird to bring back these memories.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

New homes for new arrivals

Monday 20th February 2012

Tuesday 21st February 2012

Wednesday 22nd February 2012
A few days of mixed weather, so I chose to get stuck in to a couple of not very exciting indoor jobs. Gerald, the boar still on loan to us, can not go back to his farm yet but nor can he stay with Daisy, who is only a couple of weeks off giving birth now. This time round we are much more sure than last time. We are experienced pig breeders now!

This necessitated a reorganisation of the stables and a thorough clean of the room which will become Daisy's nursery block. At this time of year, it will be safer for the piglets to begin their lives snuggled in a pile of straw sheltered from the elements. After a week or so, when they are more ready to stand on their own two feet, I will attempt to take Daisy and her litter down to the pig enclosure. This will provide photo opportunites, entertainment and anxiety in equal measures.

Not long to go now. Look at those udders.
There is also a chance that we will soon be acquiring five geese. They have appeared in a friend's garden, are reportedly tame, and no-one is claiming them. I've been doing my research and it seems all they need is grass, an old bath and a small room in which to take shelter for the night. If I move the log pile and coal store I can just about give them a room in the stables.

The end product.
They really did taste good, all the better knowing that
we had 'grown' them from seed.
I then set to work on the garage, which is where I will be storing our produce. It's not entirely sealed from the elements, so walls needed hoovering of cobwebs - when we first moved here we were astonished at the amount of wildlife, most obviously manifested by the numerous silken webs which festoon walls, windows and ceilings - and the mess left by the swallows needed clearing away.

Meanwhile, Elvis is vigorously guarding her six eggs. They are due to hatch in about a week.
The only other fowl allowed near her is the youngest guineafowl, which until now has refused to accept its enforced independence. Elvis has clearly moved on. Girl Guinea is so last year!
I now need to close the door and let Elvis have the coop and run for herself. Space for the others has become a bit more limited, so I spent a very profitable morning fixing up the coop which twice got it's roof ripped off by the high winds a few weeks ago. Chicken Village now restored to its former glory.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

In amongst the bric-a-brac

Sunday 19th February 2012
Clear skies overnight and a slight frost
Last night we received a call to say that a table had become available for a table top sale in Holbeach Community Centre.
So I quickly knocked up a price list for our pork and dug out all the (virtually) free flyers and cards we had ordered a few weeks back from Vistaprint. A plug here for these guys. I don't know how they do it but, if you stick to your guns and don't get tempted by fancy frills, you can design and purchase some excellent publicity materials and only pay a modest delivery charge. Everything we've received has been very good quality. We've got business cards, flyers, lawn signs, banners, mugs, t-shirts...all the gizmos to build our thriving multinational concern!!

Everyone has to start somewhere, and on Sunday morning Sue and I found ourselves setting up our stall of jams, jellies, relishes and chutneys in amongst the bric-a-brac stalls. I had one end of the table for publicising our pork. We couldn't actually take any pork or sausages along - we'd have been breaking endless rules! I must say, I felt out of place and my first instinct was to walk back out and head home. But Sue is more steely than I so we settled down for a 3 hour stint in a very cold hall. We sold 2 small jars of chutney and a large jar of relish - one to the woman with the smelly ferret on the stall opposite. After the £5 we paid for the table, that's 70p profit between us. (I'm not including the petrol money as we were heading that way anyway, nor the cost of the jars, as that would result in a loss!)

BUT...we did get our faces seen. We chatted to several people about our pork, which I have decided to call PROPPA PORK. If it results in a couple of people dropping by the farm and even one of them becoming a regular customer, then it will be a morning well spent. In the old days I'd have spent a small fortune just escaping the claustrophobic confines of the big city.

It was very heartening to confirm that there are people around who still appreciate the merits of traditional meat. And, too, that several people had noticed our signs as they drove past.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Welcome back Squiggle and Curl

Saturday 18th February 2012
Spring is back in the air, but the morning sun is still hidden.

An early morning trip to the butcher to collect Squiggle and Curl. Half of one of them has stayed to be cured for bacon.
We spent the rest of the morning repacking and filling every available square inch of freezer space with pork chops, rolled legs, shoulders, bellies, sausages, trotters, livers, kidneys, heart and lungs.
It was very interesting to see how much we got. This first adventure is designed to teach us which meat will sell best and how to raise our pigs in future for the best meat. As it was, we seem to have done a very good job. Pretty much just the right amount of fat for good flavour without it taking over the whole carcass. Also, the eventual weight of the pigs was spot on. Beginners luck again!

I suspect that sausages will be our biggest seller. Everybody knows how to cook them, they're quick and they can come straight out of the freezer. But I'm also hoping we can find some regular customers who recognise the virtues of traditionally reared and butchered pork, crackling and all.

So it was that, even as we were packing all the meat, we got our first sale. Not just sausages, but a pack of chops too. Mind you, when I checked the online prices of a certain large supermarket, our prices are broadly in line with what they charge for the bulk standard stuff. Cheaper than the Finest they sell, and I reckon even finer than that too! This first sale is only a small step, but every little helps! I really hope they like our product. At the end of the day, I want the product to sell itself. A small handful of repeat customers would make me a very happy man.

Here's what you get if you order half a pig.
Meanwhile, Sue had better get to like the taste of pork more than she does now. I'm sure she won't even recognise this pork compared to what she's eaten before.

The liver we had this evening was certainly very tasty indeed, probably the freshest I've ever had. It was sumptuous with a big pile of mash (the desirees are still doing well in storage and have proved to be excellent for baking, mashing and chipping).

Friday, 17 February 2012

Gone Birding

Friday 17th February 2012
A gloomy sunrise over the Welsh village of Rhiwderin.
At 4:30 pm yesterday, when I was at the farthest point of the farm, Sue came running all the way down the land to alert me.
My pager had started wildly wailing again.
A Common Yellowthroat, a small, brightly coloured warbler all the way from America. What was it doing just outside Newport, Gwent? Well, it probably came over last Autumn, blown way off course and dumped into a strange, foreign land. The warmer than average winter will have meant it could survive on a diet of insects and invertebrates. Possibly it had been in this place for several months now, or more likely the recent spell of cold weather had caused it to move on and find a new temporary home.
All credit to the person who found it. It would most certainly be an unexpected bird to see in a Welsh hedge in February.

Now, I have seen a Common Yellowthroat on this side of the Atlantic before, one in a lighthouse compound in the far West of Ireland. That was in 2003.
The last one to be seen in Britain was in 1997 on the Isles of Scilly, so most people had waited almost fifteen years for a repeat visit. It's not often a twitcher gets to see yank warblers in this country, so I quickly made arrangements to travel overnight to be there from first light the next morning.

Everybody spread out to search for the bird.
Nothing for the first hour.


Not the actual bird.

Then...a to see it in case something ghastly happens to it in the next two minutes...there it is it now?...that's it!

Well, I hope you're impressed.
By early afternoon we were heading back through the rolling hills of East Midlands. In one small area we saw over twenty Red Kites, just floating on the air searching for carrion. This dense population is the relic of a release scheme designed to bring this rare raptor back from the brink of extinction in this country. It has been a tremendous success and these birds now have a flourishing and spreading population. It can't be long before one soars over the farm and has me sprinting for my binoculars, if they're not already round my neck.

A Single Long-tailed Tit and a Thousand Lapwings
Wales and back, and still time to do some birding on the farm!
A diminutive Long-tailed Tit swung from the feeders. A relatively infrequent garden visitor, these birds almost always travel in groups of up to a dozen birds. To see one all on its tod was an even more unusual sight. Later, as I regaled a friend with the events of the morning in Wales, I broke off the conversation to check out a distant, tight flock of birds. The heavy, flopping wings gave them away as lapwings. Quite common in the winter around here, but here was a thousand plus in one flock. Presumably our local population has been topped up by birds coming off the continent following the recent big freeze.

As a long day ended, I managed to keep the Little Owl calling for more than tem minutes by answering its calls. Unfortunately it stayed tight in the hedge and remained unseen.


Thursday, 16 February 2012

Fame At Last - I'm in The Spalding Guardian

Thursday 16th February 2012

How's this for a posed picture!
Shame they chose not to mention my blog!

The last couple of days have seen me trying to make my way through a long list of little jobs that need doing before the growing season is truly upon us. The greenhouse has been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, but it's in my mind that my new, bigger greenhouse is still in it's box and needs a concrete base preparing before I can build it. While I'm doing that, I intend to build raised plinths for my water butts. The previous owners stood them on a pile of pallets, but a cubic metre of water on a pile of pallets only has one conclusion - collapse.
And those new trees won't grow if I let the grass grow round their bases. Grass is a surprisingly strong competitor for plant resources and will seriously stunt the growth of saplings. Later in the year I will mulch around the trees with grass clippings and old hay, but for now I want the water to be able to get through to the roots. But as the days get longer and the grass bursts into growth I have started this task by flattening any old cardboard boxes I have and slipping them over the top of the tree protectors. Not pretty, but functional and free. It won't be long before they begin to blend into the environment.

Blasted Rabbits (or Hares, or Deer)
It was as I was doing this job that I realised the dog roses I had planted had been severely mangled. In fact it was a struggle to find the stem of a couple, but the rest have effectively been fairly heavily pruned. They may even grow back bushier and stronger as a result. I had made the mistake of presuming the rabbits and hares would leave them alone because of the prickles...WRONG!
Not just the dog roses, but the sycamores too. I had read that these were immune to rabbit grazing. Either that was completely wrong, or there was another culprit, maybe hares or even the party of five roe deer which had been spotted leaping across the fields during the recent arctic conditions.
I had mistakenly purloined a few of the tree protectors for a hornbeam hedge I had previously planted, so I quickly improvised using cut off plastic bottles slipped over stakes and bamboo canes. As a temporary measure this has worked fine on the willow slips I have put in the ground on other parts of the farm. I will need to keep monitoring though. The rabbits may just move onto some other prized plants to graze instead!

Anyhow, as usually happens, my long list of little jobs had been usurped by a job which took a good chunk of the day. Not to worry!

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