Baked Aubergines

The hotbed has settled down to a simmer,


a steady 50 degrees nine inches below the surface and around 20 on the top, so now is the time to test it out.


A wren has taken up residence in the lavender bushes in the polytunnel and flits round tutting at an intruder in its territory.

A tray of aubergine seedlings is moved into place


I have learned not to put all my eggs into one basket but try out new situations with some plants first.

If more aubergines can be moved out then these tomato seedlings will be able to move into their place


And then there were ten

Today, for the first time in nine and a half weeks in this country, we experienced what I think of as real Welsh rain – sheets sweeping across in violent gusts and bursts.  Then I realised what it was, as the local caravan parks prepare for the first visitors of the year the weather is also practicing the face it likes to show to tourists.

As it was the last Sunday of the month, we were returning home with a box


this time containing three hybrids


Meet Wattle and Daub, a pair of Rhode Rocks – a Rhode Island Red/Barred Plymmouth Rock cross that are said to be good foragers that are happy to be outside in all weathers and

Bluebell the Bluebelle – a Rhode Island Red/Copper Blue Maran cross with pink brown eggs.

They were soon having their welcoming cuddles


before being sent outside to prove their adaptability and hardiness in the horizontal rain.

Smallholding for beginners

Spent an inspiring day today at Humble By Nature:

“Humble by Nature’s home is a working farm just outside Monmouth in the Wye Valley in South Wales. For at least four generations it was owned by the local council and tenanted to young farming families who had no farm of their own. In 2010, when the last tenant retired and handed in his notice, the council decided to sell the farm, broken up into lots.

Kate Humble and husband Ludo Graham were looking for more land for their smallholding animals when they heard about the farm being sold. They felt it was too important an asset to the area, to farming and to the community to allow it to be sold in that way. They persuaded the council to allow them to take it on, keep it tenanted and run a business that in turn would support other rural businesses. The farm is now home to Tim and Sarah Stephens, who breed Welsh Mountain sheep and Hereford cattle.”

I was there for a day course on smallholding for beginners led by by

see her pigs here.

Next step: get a CPH number

One can never have too many sheds

We have extricated our last chattels from the big city, most significantly a shed:


Which might have to start its new life as a chick rearing house when our incubating eggs hatch.  It needs a level patch and the best option is here:


a spot presently occupied by compost heaps.  Fortunately the last  incoming load also included some pallets


which together with left over packing boxes as insulation start to form a new composting range


Now having more fresh horse manure than we know what to do with (had to acquire a trailer to ferry it in from all the helpful neighbours)


using it to leaven the compost.

The freezer shed now mainly contains dead things as the guinea pigs have moved out


Strange that their first morning outside is also the first time there have been four buzzards mewing and wheeling low over the house area


The profile of trees and shrubs subtly alters as stems and branches show tight balls of energy



Just like to say


I’m slowing down the tune
I never liked it fast
You want to get there soon
I want to get there last

It’s not because I’m old
It’s not the life I led
I always liked it slow
That’s what my momma said

I’m lacing up my shoe
But I don’t want to run
I’ll get here when I do
Don’t need no starting gun

It’s not because I’m old
It’s not what dying does
I always liked it slow
Slow is in my blood

I always liked it slow:
I never liked it fast
With you it’s got to go:
With me it’s got to last

It’s not because I’m old
It’s not because I’m dead
I always liked it slow
That’s what my momma said

All your moves are swift
All your turns are tight
Let me catch my breath
I thought we had all night

I like to take my time
I like to linger as it flies
A weekend on your lips
A lifetime in your eyes

I always liked it slow…

I’m slowing down the tune
I never liked it fast
You want to get there soon
I want to get there last

So baby let me go
You’re wanted back in town
In case they want to know
I’m just trying to slow it down

Coming home

I have been away from this place for 36 hours and look what I have been missing…

The hailbow, bit like a rainbow but with hail


just part of the “every weather in a day” experience of this place


The first local lambs (those lowland fellas have had lambs for ages but up here we wait for the right time)


and the wren(s)… elusive but ubiquitous, flicking in and out of sight like leaves blown in the wind


Integrating the refugees

The fourth golden day in a row and it is easy to forget that with a snap of the fingers the wind can change, the temperature drop and, like two years ago here in April, the sheep and lambs can disappear under two feet of snow.

The librarian (the one who finds us books, horse manure and local historians) talked recently about how Spring travels up the valley from Welshpool, its daily advance seen in hedgerow blackthorn and the first leafing of trees.  We have seen that in lambs – for several weeks the fields close to Welshpool have had happy mothers (not sure that sheep do happy) and now lambs are popping out close at hand.

Also popping out are bumble bees


The first brave daffodil


And outdoor drying of laundry


We have mainly been integrating our Sheffield refugee trees into the existing arboreal community.  The current list is something like this

  • 1 x Rowan
  • 2 x Black elder
  • 3 x lacecap hydrangea


(I know, they are not really trees but they come to join two enormous hydrangeas, which flower a deep deep blue, from each of which we have cut off several score old flower heads to give the new growth a boost)


  • 1 x pine
  • 1 x small willow with variegated leaves
  • 1 x bay


  • 1 x horse chestnut rescued from skip in Nether Edge
  • 1 x silver conifer
  • 2 x variegated holly
  • 1 x unknown – should find out when in leaf
  • 2 x twisted willow
  • 1 x twisted hazel

Other Sheffield refugees include a fig and a kiwifruit, installed in the polytunnel


Which is starting looking more like a growing zone rather than a storage room


and a selection of honeysuckles and a climbing hydrangea poised to ascend some trellis, also salvaged from our Sheffield allotment


We too are immigrants venturing on to the patch of long established residents. One of these leaves us clues


before brushing past and out on to its first lookout perch of the evening, studiously ignoring the chattering blackbird and wren which come in turn to scold it.

We feel the trees are strangers but I guess we are the strangers to them.  As a start today we have been going round introducing ourselves to silver birches


Vernal delicacy

To celebrate the Vernal Equinox we are partaking of this delicacy


We have often tried to source this cut in different parts of the country, without success.  Here the butcher knows the farm, the field, and probably the individual ram lamb that is gracing our table tonight.

A day of light and shade

These last few days have been so glorious, the sun is getting slightly higher and lasting slightly longer, the high pressure has kept the air still while mist conceals and then reveals the layers of hillside.

And then first thing today the sunlight takes on a curious quality as the sun is eclipsed


The living things don’t show signs of disorientation, the hens continue foraging as normal.  The resident tawny owl is more put out by being stalked by us.  Yesterday it flew out of a conifer at face height disturbed by a noisy barrow so today we creep round to locate it and stare up the conifer trunk to be met by two eyes staring down. Nearby we noticed this box, put up by our predecessors, for the first time


Rather large.  Is this for owls? The hole has been well pecked, maybe by the woodpecker who we saw with his mate for the first time today.

The balmy weather brought out Flo, Anna and May for their first grass nibbling session


and the fritillaries in the orchard


and something more exotic in the greenhouse


We have been planting more trees and have now found homes for all those that came from Sheffield.  We have started mapping the trees


10 done – we reckon about another 200-300 to do


Yesterday, the hotbed thermometer showed 66 degrees C
This morning, the thermometer had blown
Tomorrow, we are cooking our breakfast on the horse dung