Consider the Humble Dandelion

We are slowly trying to maintain and expand a new flower border for perennials and herbaceous plants interspaced with some annuals. This month we noticed a flower we had not invited

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We were about to attack when we heard a voice:

“Hello, you might call me a weed but I’m a friend and have come to help you. I’m the only one who wants and can grow here because:

  • Either the soil is too compact and I want to loosen it for you with my roots.
  • Or there is too little calcium in the soil – don’t worry, I will replenish that for you with the dying of my leaves.
  • Or the soil is too acidic, but I will also improve that for you if you give me the chance.”

So had a think… and thought that if we had grown these flowers from seed and cossetted the plants to produce blooms like this

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we would be very pleased. The voice reinforced this view with a slightly threatening:

“I’m here because your soil needs my help so best you let me grow without disturbing me! When everything is fixed, I will disappear again, I promise!
Are you trying to remove me prematurely with my root? However meticulous you are, I will return twice as strong! Just until your soil is improved.”

We had noticed that the blooms had many visitors

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sometimes very small

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The voice explained:

“My flowers are the first food for insects after hibernation and unlike most other plants, I have pollen and nectar, not merely one or the other! And I am generous with them!”

We did know of the culinary possibilities

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The voice elucidated:

“My flowers are even delicious for you people by the way, did you know? I used to be called ′′honey (or gold) of the poor′′ because my flowers are so sweet in jam, sauce or salad!”

So we decided to just enjoy

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Creatures of May

A quick tour of some of the other animals who have been sharing our patch in the last couple of weeks…

This pair of Canada Geese have taken to cruising by in the mornings

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we hear them before we see them and all their movements take place in perfect synchronisation. One morning they even landed and were caught in the distance on a phone camera

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We had lots of frogspawn down at the lake. The tadpoles developed and vanished. One of them decided to take up residence in a polytunnel water tank

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We must have scores of nests on site but get to know the location of very few, outside the boxes. The sparrows use under the eaves but this one has actually deigned to use the purpose built Sparrow terrace

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We listen out for the songs of returning migrant warblers but they are not easy to capture on camera. So far the Blackcap has evaded attempts but we did catch a fleeting shot of the Chiffchaff

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Some birds are less shy

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We have a camera on one of the feeders letting us catch close ups…

…of the seldom seen in the case of the Reed Bunting…

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…the otherwise shy Jay…

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…and the ubiquitous Wood Pigeon which seems to kind of exist under the radar – to big to be noticed?

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Another camera brought us excitement

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the first evidence of hedgehog activity for well over a year. We had quite a few on site before the drought of 2019.

And also on camera an ordinary bird doing an ordinary activity but somehow the video has an intimacy which illustrates the myriad animal moments which take place each day at Gribin Isaf

The April Showers of May

As everyone knows, we have just had an unusual April

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Here we had eighteen nights with frost and 18.4 mm of rain, 13.4 of which fell in three days

Last year’s April

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we had one night of frost and 31.6 mm of rain.

Now that May is here we are getting all the April showers that didn’t happen

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So at last things feel a little more normal and growth is accelerating.

Now that the ducks have moved out of the orchard we are trying to encourage a native and introduced meadow mix. Earlier this year we planted a load of bulbs that should have gone in during the Autumn. These tulips are making up for lost time

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The Jack-by-the-hedge has been spreading

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and the Orange Tips are seeking it out

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Lady’s-smock is starting to pop up all over the place

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The small tunnel has been full for a while

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We are trying to be more organised with our sowing this year

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and today we started the seventh succession batch of lettuce. This lot is still in the packed greenhouse

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while this lot are being harvested

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The first lot of peas are in the tunnel too

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The big tunnel is starting to get sorted

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First tomatoes are in position. We are growing eight varieties this year

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After an abysmal crop last year, due to lack of sun, we are hoping for better things.

Cherries are already forming in that tunnel

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Here are some more splashes of May colour

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Bert

You could say that Bert was at least partly responsible for us ending up where we are now, doing what we do.

We first met him in August 2014 when he was living in Shropshire and seeing the little set-up he had got there made as wonder if we could do something similar.

Less than five months after meeting Bert we made that change and then seven months after that he decided to come and live with us.

He had sent his lady friend over to us a few weeks previously and they settled down together for a life of leisure and procreation. As time went by Bert concentrated on the former having become not so good at the latter. We felt he had earned the right to enjoy a quiet retirement but also knew that ultimately we would have to decide when it would come to an end…


So here is Bert when we first met him in Shropshire

He in fact had two lady friends at that time, Spot and Peggy, and earlier that year had jumped a couple of fences and was therefore a happy father of two litters.

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Spot arrived with as on 25th August 2015

and soon made herself at home

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and then Bert arrived a week later

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and quickly renewed his friendship

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Bert had a history

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But since he had been inactive in the pedigree world for some time he had been pronounced dead. After much persuasion we managed to get him brought back to life

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So that after resuming his relationship with Spot

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producing some offspring with a vague resemblance to Saddlebacks

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he was able to have a new, purebred lady friend, Dinah

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and so produce some proper Saddleback babies

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Bert continued to spend time for on favourite activities

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this was Christmas dinner 2019:

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but was happy for others to undertake reproduction duties (we weren’t as good at it as he was)

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Having decided he could continue to have free board and lodgings into his retirement we knew that we had taken on the responsibility for his well being.

A few weeks ago he stopped eating. That is very unusual for a pig. He had steroids and antibiotics to see if they would help but he continued to ignore food. He was not in distress and still had the occasional amble and wallow but we was obviously getting weaker. We knew if we waited until he became immobile we would have a big logistical problem so eventually we took the decision to bring in the fallen stock experts.

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He was at ease until the end, in familiar surroundings with familiar smells.

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Bert

March 22nd 2010 – April 20th 2021

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Birthday Bins

Last week saw a birthday here and the occasion of the (almost) completion of the dream structure.

Work had started way back in the new year

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Securing posts

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Getting everything square and level

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Bit by bit

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Our inspiration:

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Charles Dowding of No Dig fame and a compost wizard as you can read here

These are his compost bins and we have always dreamed of emulating them

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Now that dream was coming true

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We couldn’t wait to start using them even before they were finished

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Then the roof started going on

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A big overhang at the back will provide tool storage

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Not quite finished but convincing enough to celebrate a birthday

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Finishing touches will include water collection and, of course, adding the name plate: “The Dowdings”

We have the blessing of the man hiself:

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A birthday is always an upside down kind of day – such as starting with a special radish breakfast

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and this birthday is always marked by a walk up the hill, looking down on where we normally are

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and getting closer to things we normally see in the distance – this ancient holly stands out from far away

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but getting close shows its girth and age

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We discovered some things we can’t see from our patch

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and brought back some treasure

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Blossoming

Is it really here? Was last night the end of frost for the time being? Can we whisper S P R I N G?

We had an omen today.

Our Pied Flycatcher flew in from Africa and… straight into a shed.

This rather fuzzy picture shows him being redirected

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towards his reserved quarters which we described here. (As soon as we unblocked the entrance a pair of sparrows were inspecting the box)

Elsewhere chicks are growing

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Lambs are congregating

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Ponds are vibrating

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and insects are on the move

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And Blossom is blossoming…

The cherry in the polytunnel

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and the ornamental ones outside

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Blackthorn is everywhere

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Plum

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Pear

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Time to blossom

Mobility aids for Chicks

We have hatched many many hen eggs over the years and it was not until last May that we had a case of Splayed Leg.

It took as a little research to find the solution:

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The full story can be read here and here.

And now Hubble looks like this:

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a slightly too feisty cockerel, in charge of five Speckled Sussex hens

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So we were ready when it happened again this month

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This time the, as yet, un-named chick only took two days to find his/her own feet

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and join her/his peers

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We just hope we don’t have a case of Crooked Toes and have to make chick sandals

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