Uncovering the strawberry patch
Just where do the weeds come from? A bit of warm weather and a spot of rain and suddenly the strawberry patch disappeared under a metre high forest of grasses and docks. It got so bad I'm ashamed to even show you a picture of it. The berry bushes and raspberries are the same. It's not been this bad in previous years but this year the grass is growing like elephant grass. Even the sheep field is outgrowing the grazing efforts of the Shetland sheep.
And so it was that I spent the whole day pulling weeds. At least the damp soil meant that the roots came out easily. But it was hard work, so much so that I drafted Sue in to help. We'd better get a good strawberry crop, especially as the new strawberry patch is about five times the size of the old one.
An artificial swarm
In the morning Sue had been doing a spot of bee-keeping. At this time of year, if the hive is getting full, the bees start building queen cells which look a bit like monkey nuts hanging down from the frames. These they fill with royal jelly to raise new queens. They are a sure sign that the old queen is getting ready to leave, taking half the colony with her. Sue took two strong hives into the winter rather than three weaker ones with the aim of splitting one or both in the spring. The imminent swarm is the time to do this. Basically you create a small colony, known as a nucleus, in a mini-hive, a nuke box. With luck you avoid further swarming and create a new colony. We'll see if it works.
Sue took honey off too. It's rape honey so timing is critical before it sets solid. This had happened on a few of the frames. The solution is to spray them with water and out them back in the hive for the bees to clean up if they can.
Despite Sue's tinkering, the bees which were visiting the strawberry plants today seemed unconcerned with me, just going about their business in amongst the strawberry flowers.
On the bird front we still have 7 turkey poults, so fingers crossed we are over the worst of the losses. They'll be staying in the stable until they are much bigger and the weather is much warmer. Lesson learned.
Sadly Captain Peacock is confirmed dead. I found his body in a bit of a mess. I found out more of the story from Don. Apparently a couple of days ago there were feathers strewn on the roadside. But Captain was still alive, sitting in the dyke. I guess though that the verge cutting must have injured him or rendered him defenceless, for something obviously got him overnight.
More news from Don. Apparently on Wednesday night yet another car came off the road at the bend and went straight through his field gates! We didn't even know it had happened. About two cars a year come off here and usually end up in the ditch.
A willowy day!
The early part of the day was spent back at the Green Backyard. This week we were making dragonflies. These start with a basic bell shape which I have never mastered. I've not been able to understand how to influence the shape. My bells end up looking like cigars! But today I finally got it. It was on the last go, just before I was about to spit out my dummy and give up.
Once I'd got the weaving technique sorted I could use my knowledge of nature to make some very realistic dragonflies.
I also started working out a design for some willow bulrushes to go round the pond in the veg plot.
Back home and there was more willow magic to be woven. Last year I chopped down a couple of overgrown twisted willows, nearly taking out the stable block in the process. Over the winter we threw the branches to the sheep who did a wonderful job stripping off every last thread of bark, which should stop them rooting. Today I planted four of them into the bean patch. At the base I've planted my Gigantes beans. These are a variety of runner bean grown for the gigantic (hence the name) white butter beans it produces. I have high hopes for this new variety.
A ring of willow arches
But I wasn't yet finished with my willow day. For about 80 willow whips I harvested in the winter have been sat in a water butt growing a tangle of roots. I was planning to use them for a fedge or a tunnel but that project will have to wait for next year now. I didn't want to waste them though and while at the Green Backyard I found some inspiration. They use willow to create living archways and screens all around the place. I decided that a circle of archways around the 'wheel' of the veg patch would create dramatic effect.
As it was getting dark I had to stop. I'd planted and twisted a dozen arches. Some need to grow a little before I can link them across the top. I had four left to do, though an extension of my idea meant that an extra eight would be needed!
Last act of the day was to pick my first ever kohl rabi bulb. We had it steamed and it tasted very nice indeed. We'll try the next one raw, sliced into a salad.
24 degrees today. The morning was spent picking up some sheep hurdles and other equipment from a fellow smallholder who is giving up and moving on. You can never have too many sheep hurdles.
Straw for the strawberries
I spent the afternoon tucking straw under the developing strawberry fruits. It lifts them off the ground and stops them rotting or getting splashed by mud. I chose not to use slug pellets under the straw mulch. Hopefully I won't regret that decision.
Finally I netted the strawberries to protect them from marauding birds - mainly the guinea fowl who are rather partial to the occasional strawberry.
At the end of a hot day there was still time to finish the remaining dozen arches in The Wheel. They don't look much at the moment, but give it a year...
Mowing, mowing and more mowing. The grass has got a bit unruly (understatement) and on the few dry days we've had I've been chasing birds all around the country. I've perfected a technique of lifting up the from of the mower and using it like a strimmer. It was hot and thirsty work, punctuated by many a break for drinks. I'm sure I didn't need this many breaks when I was younger.
The mower needed rest breaks too, so in between scything paths through the jungle I planted out the leeks and celeriac alongside tagetes marigolds in nice neat rows. They make good companions and are one of the combinations I've stuck to over the years.
I grow two varieties of leek, Jolant, an early one and Musselburgh. I raise them in trays early in the year. They are slow growers.
I put some spare strawberry and herb plants into the 'permaculture' beds too. We should have strawberries coming out of our ears, but I can just never throw away spare plants
Today I kicked the broody Muscovy off her eggs too. They obviously weren't going to hatch and she needed to get back to normal life.
Glorious weather again. Too hot to do much though. Every now and then I have a day of just pottering, making the time to appreciate everything on the smallholding. It's far too easy to get so bogged down in work that you never get time to enjoy what you've created.
Our Cream Legbar hen has moved out from her three Ixworth chicks. She has jumped the fence and left them on their own! A couple of days ago we tried letting them out with the flock. The chicks coped fine but mum got into lots of fights so we had to separate them again. Mum moving out will make things much easier.
A gosling disappears
But not a day goes by without a drama of some sort at the moment. I guess it's inevitable with so many young birds. One of the small goslings has gone missing. One minute the two grey geese had three little goslings, the next time I looked there were only two. I searched everywhere but to no avail. It has just vanished. There's no way it will still be alive.
Eggs back on the menu
The garden is starting to get pretty dry now. Temperatures in the polytunnel are unbearable at times. My glasses steam up when I go in there!
The chickens are liking the warm weather. They had virtually stopped laying for a few days (this happened last year at this time too) but today we were back up to 11 eggs again.
Two fighter jets spent much of the day practising their dogfight manoeuvres over the farm today. Spectacular but noisy. There was thunder too, but no rain yet. I used the evening to get right on top of the grass. Even the front lawn got cut. This is always the last one I get round to.
The trouble with mowing the grass is that, unlike other big jobs, once it's done it soon needs doing again. I'm not talking about obsessively manicured lawns and paths here. No. I'm talking just keeping it below waist height!
So it's been quite a productive week. The veg patch is coming along nicely, the grass is all mown, the strawberry patch is looking amazing, the chickens are laying again and there are willow sculptures everywhere.