Sunday, 3 July 2016

June goes out with a splash

26th June
Bonus beans
I'd put it off for a couple of days but decided to spend the morning trying to fix the electric fence. That was until I found that yesterday's storm had left an inch of water standing in the corner stable, the one where the fence energiser is sited.
So instead I finished planting the beans I'd raised in the polytunnel. I decided to plant out the Cobra beans as they seem to have outgrown their early deformities. And the Pea Beans too! After sowing a couple of hundred beans, I've finally got about a dozen to germinate. They'd better not get munched by slugs!

Forgetting about Brexit
The afternoon was the Smallholders Club meeting being held at a friend's smallholding. It was nice to get away from the problems of the world for a while.
Quinoa Query
Back from the meeting, I decided to plant out my quinoa plants. I grew some spares in modules just in case the direct sown ones didn't make it. As it is, I have no idea whether they made it or not as they are totally indistinguishable from the fat hen which is probably the commonest weed on my land. So I've left that bed to grow - it should be possible to tell them when they come into flower - and planted a new patch elsewhere.
53 Red Hot Pokers
As I was doing this the swallows started to kick up a real commotion. The cause soon became apparent as a barn owl swooped through the garden being chased by swallows. It appeared to come from the hollow ash tree, so with a bit of luck it's decided to roost there during the day.
Finally the rain set in again. It's certainly been a wet June. I retired to the polytunnel and potted up my Red Hot Poker plants - I got 53 from one small tray.
The polytunnel is filling quickly so I harvested a few turnips which were looking really good. In these muggy conditions it's important to thin out plants to enable the air to circulate at ground level, otherwise everything starts to rot.

27th June
Keeping the sheep in
A lovely day spent down in the sheep field. I love it down here under the huge fenland sky. I can just absorb myself in the moment and leave all the worries of the world behind.
Today's task was to work out where the problem was with the electric fence and to section off the field into smaller areas so I can rotate the sheep.
I replaced some of the wire which had turned rusty, I cleaned up some of the connections and I spent quite some time cutting the grass down under the fence. Finally I took the mower down and cut the grass short under the fence. All of this managed to raise the voltage at the end of the fence from about 800 to just over 4000. This should be enough to teach the Shetland lambs not to keep going through it. They can still get through if they put their head down and make most of the contact with their woolly back, but it won't take long before they get a shock and learn to stay where they are supposed to be.
There's still room for improvement. The far end of the fence still goes through swards of long grass and I've reluctantly decided that when the weather is good enough I will have to use weedkiller to keep the grass down. Keeping a few hundred metres of fence clear of grass is just not practical with shears or a strimmer (for starters, there are too many accidents when the lower wire gets severed) and the ground is too rough for the mower.

Dragonflies and a Hawk Moth
I was surprised to find standing water in one area, but very pleased to see dragonflies over it.


Another surprising find was this amazing Privet Hawk Moth on a fence post.

Finally it was time to move the young lambs down to their new home. I spent several hours shepherding the flock. They seemed very happy with the new food choices and there were no major arguments with the old timers. It's fascinating to watch the Shetland sheep eat. At times they munch the lush grass at ground level, other times they nibble away at the seed heads a foot or more off the ground. I guess it gives their neck a rest.


Swallow trials
A swallow colony attracts its fair share of undesirables. We never used to have magpies here, but for the last couple of years they've become more regular. With this has come an increase in violent muggings, for they make occasional visits to the nests to plunder eggs and  young birds. Still, enough of the swallows survive this ordeal and this past week some of the young have been on the wing. This makes the adults more defensive than usual and several times a day they rise into the air as one chattering loudly. It often draws my attention to a raptor of some description. Today the swallow saw off a sparrowhawk in the morning and a barn owl and a kestrel in the afternoon. But there is one falcon which is a much bigger threat, for the day the first swallows nest is the day the first hobby appears. A dapper and slender falcon which summers in this country, it consumes dragonflies in the early part of the year, catching them mid-air. But this swift and agile falcon is quite capable of catching a swallow, especially a young inexperienced one. And so it was this evening that I saw this for the first time. I missed the actual moment, but alerted to a raptor I looked up to see the hobby shooting low through the garden with a swallow dangling from its talons.
Fortunately the swallows will have more than one brood and not all the young will be predated. There are always more on the way.


28th June
I spent the morning with the sheep again, time well spent doing not very much!
Howcome my legs have come up in a terrible rash just from brushing against our deadly fenland nettles yet the Shetland can munch away on them quite happily?



Into the polytunnel. Again.
Early afternoon and the rain came again. Again I retired to the polytunnel and set about potting up the flowers I've ben raising in trays and modules. At this time of year I move them out of the polytunnel as they can quickly dry up on a hot day and I find that conditions outside are less extreme. They often get just enough water from the sky but I occasionally give them a drink. But this year they have been drowning! Quite literally. I cannot keep emptying the trays they stand in fast enough. If I don't put them in trays they can all too easily dry up.

And so I began the task of picking them out, prising apart their root systems and giving each its own pot in which to grow big enough to be planted out into the beds. My previous efforts to grow foxgloves from seed have come to nothing, so this year I sowed a good pinch of seed into each module. Well, I now have about three hundred tiny foxglove plants crammed together. Potting up this many plants takes ages. I got about a hundred done and have left the rest. They probably won't be needed, though I could try and sell them if  get time. I potted up lupins, hollyhocks and liatris too so the flower beds should hopefully be looking good this time next year, if the rabbits and slugs don't get them all.

Where are the pollinators?
The sun came out again in the evening which hailed a bright double rainbow. The bees came out too, for their feeding time has been short of late. In fact I'm having trouble with the general lack of pollinators this year, hardly a hoverfly or butterfly to be seen.



29th June
A day of relentless rain. Rest day declared!

30th June
Cow poo!
We took the whole school on their now annual trip to the Norfolk Show today. Main interest for the class I was with were the cow sheds. To be more precise, they displayed a slightly concerning preoccupation with cow poo! That and which cow had the most Kim Kardashian bottom!

Putting that aside, it's a great show, though I can't believe how much it is for Joe Public to get in. It would have cost Sue and I £60 if we didn't get free teachers tickets. Someone's raking in an awful lot of money. It's a shame they can't find a little space for a few non-profit making organisations like the smallholders clubs.
The disadvantage of going with the school is that I had to go where the children wanted to go. I glimpsed some amazing blacksmithery and willow weaving and would have liked to spend time looking at the ride-on mowers, but I just couldn't get the children interested to the same extent as the cow poo.
On the plus side, I did rather fall in love with the mini Dexter cows. And there were some great sheep in the Rare Breeds area, Hungarian Screw-horned sheep, also known as Rackas. Then there were the donkeys with dreadlocks and I was pretty impressed with the heavy horses and the old farm machinery they pulled.




Worried about my nuts
Back home and there was a squirrel on the feed feeders. Only the second time I've ever seen one on our land. I'm afraid its not really welcome. I don't want my bird feeders destroyed and I certainly hope it doesn't find the cobnut trees.
A fox heard calling late at night was a reminder to keep careful guard on the poultry. On a positive note, the barn owl seems to have settled in the area as I saw it swoop in and perch on the chicken fence at dusk.

Tomorrow it's July. Hard to believe.

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