Monday, 7 May 2012

The Last Frost???

Monday 7th May 2012 (bank holiday)

Scary stuff!
Thought I should dress up for what is hopefully the last frost of the season.
Friday night's promised frost never really materialised, though it did appear overnight on Saturday, but nothing to match this morning's. Hopefully it will be the last significant frost of the year.
I forgot to mention yesterday, I did manage to completely mangle one of the fleeces I had placed over the young potato shoots. I just caught the edge in the mower and this was the start of an unstoppable, cataclysmic reaction which saw the fleece spiral into the mower blades and come out in tatters until the blades eventually ground to a halt. 
Some of the potato shoots got caught by the frost. Not too many, and I will use the opportunity to see how much damage is caused. That way, I'll know for next year how much effort to put into protecting my spuds.

After the sunrise photo, I came back into the house to give the sun a chance to warm the ground. I was delighted to glance at my phone and notice the following two comments posted to this blog. Due my my tinkering with comments systems, I've lost them again, but am copying them here as they really cheered me up and made me feel proud of what we are doing here.

 
Found you yesterday. In the interests of research, bacon for breakfast and roast shoulder of pork for dinner today. We are very difficult to please but your product is SENSATIONAL. Keep up the good work and we look forward to being regular customers. Very Best Wishes ~ Sue and Steve


Have just enjoyed reading your blog.I
It was nice to meet you earlier today. Hope we didn't take up too much of your time. Thanks for letting the girls feed the piglets they loved it.

As I fed the chickens, I was lucky enough to be able to watch two baby Mistlethrushes begging and being fed by their parents. What a lovely start to the day.

Chasing piglets
At 9 o'clock I received a surprise phone call which made the day considerably more eventful.
A while ago a couple of other smallholders had put a deposit down on three piglets and we had sort of arranged to hand them over on Monday 7th May, once they had been weaned. However, we had no further contact and had got the ansaphone yesterday.
Unfortunately, when it comes to piglets, lots of people profess a definite interest in acquiring them, but the promised phone call of confirmation never comes. So I never really felt 100% sure that we had actually sold three.
Anyway, true to their word, Bev and Stuart were coming shortly to pick up their piglets. Bother! I had already fed them. I say this because pigs are ten times easier to control when they are hungry.
I would shortly be faced with the task of catching three of my little piglets. To be more precise, three boars. Ideally I would be able to view them from the back so I could tell what I was catching.

However, just look at the state of their pen after weeks of constant rain. Old clothes would be required!
And just look how wary they look having just been separated from mum. Piglets are not stupid. In fact, they are rather smart, as well as being fast and strong. The extra people, the dog carriers and the second feed of the morning all spelled danger to them. They would not let me get within about 6 feet, and even then they made sure they were facing me. This meant I could not easily tell the boys from the girls, and it would take a most athletic lunge to grab a back leg, the best way to catch them.
Please excuse the lack of action photos, but it was not our main priority!
Fortunately Bev and Stuart had brought a large fishing net with them (note to self...buy one!) We were very lucky. The first three piglets we caught were all boys. They squealed to high heaven, but quickly settled into the carriers and seemed happy enough in the back of the people carrier.

 

The pair in the foreground,
three ganders in the background.
Bev was then kind enough to give us a lesson in sexing birds. Having scoured the internet, there seemed to be numerous different ways to tell boy from girl geese, most contradiciting each other. My birding experience convinced me, from their behaviour, that we had a pair and three younger ganders, possibly the offspring of the other two. This was confirmed on close inspection (the fishing net coming into its own again).
Bev also gave us lots of advice on looking after the geese.


Beetroots and Salsify
By midday we had already done what felt like a full day! But the weather was holding off so I took the opportunity to do some more planting in the veg patches. I finally got round to planting some beetroots, golden, stripy, purple and red. I interspersed them with onion sets, as these are supposed to be good companions. Then into another bed were sown salsify seeds with pot marigolds. A few weeks late, but it should be OK. Known as the oyster plant, salsify (purple salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius ) is a lesser grown veg in this country. However, it grows well and has a pleasant and unique taste. If a few plants are left to overwinter, they produce wonderful, spiky purple flowers in their second year, beloved of bees and hoverflies.

Asparagus
The asparagus bed, weeded and mulched.
I put thirty asparagus plants in last spring and they struggled in the bone dry conditions. However, they eventually grew well producing their feathery fronds late into the autumn. Asparagus cannot be harvested in its first year, since the plants need to build up their strength. A few spears can be taken in the second year (though I will be patient and let the plants continue to build their strength). From the third year on, and hopefully for quite some years after, spears should be produced in profusion. 
This year, the asparagus has been slow to grow. A dry winter, a hot March but then a cool, wet April and start to May have not been ideal growing conditions. But now the spears are starting to emerge in larger numbers. Unfortunately the weeds are growing even faster and asparagus does not like competition. 
So, with the soil wet but not sodden, it was the ideal time to pull the weeds without the need to cultivate too deeply. 
I read somewhere that asparagus loves a mulch of hay, but did not want to do this earlier in the year as it would block the rain from watering the soil. However, this is not now an issue and the mulch will lock in the moisture and hold back the weeds. 

At the end of the day, we gave the four chicklets an hour of freedom in the whole chicken pen. These four chicks have very strong characters and love to explore. Off they went through the long grass with no fear whatsoever. It was lovely to watch them.


A piglet peers through the fence at Guinea Guinea.


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