To Grow or not To Grow

Strange in between times.  So little rain over the last couple of weeks with a lot of clear sky sun radiating through the chilled air.  Last night enough frost to ice the sheep trough and the forecast for tonight shows heavy snow in the early hours.

The swallows (or at least a swallow) have arrived and was this morning disturbed inspecting the nest place installed in the shed:


I think it was wondering if it should deign to accept a partially ready-built nest.

[Late edit – been to inspect The Sheds and the swallow is roosting in this place tonight]

Some things can’t help but to grow and grow:


as wing feathers appear, perching is practiced, in the safety of indoor protection.

Also protected, in the polytunnel, lettuce and aubergine think it is safe to grow:


egged on by kiwi:


and fig:


slowly the technology is coming together to keep these cosseted individuals supplied with water:


all we need is rain, heavy rain, not frost and sleet showers.

The grass is growing, which must be an indicator of rising temperatures.  The lambs are growing fat on it:


as are the guinea pigs:


who have to have their run moved every couple of days as they chew the grass down to the roots.

We have even had to mow the grass in the orchard, and rake up the cuttings:


Some things that have been growing too much are the mice in the house.  They are beautiful pale-bellied wood-mice – not the grey house mouse of the city – but we still can’t have them doing their midnight munching through our eaves storage.  The night traps yield a steady supply which did go to the compost but now trying a Jain like offering platform for the Sky Foragers:


Meanwhile the Pierus thinks it might well grow in the evening sunlight:


Al Fresco Movements

We have made a start on the outdoor compost toilet:


admittedly there is still quite a lot to do yet but we feel we have the important bit in place.

Other movements today involved shifting vast quantities of brash from the conifer trimming down the plot:


for the first time, rather reluctantly, making use of petrol driven means inherited from our predecessor.  Trying to balance a Slow is Beautiful outlook with the many ongoing projects we are excited about. Anyway, I was in good company as buzzing around on small vehicles is very much what goes on round here:


Meanwhile the dog’s tooth violet looks on serenely:


On looking after trees and trees looking after us

This was the April view from our bedroom window in our city house:


Some years we could see a Collared Dove nest:


Some years that of a thrush:


This is what the road looked like:


I remember a young daughter collecting blossom petals and covering the path to the front door in a magical pink blanket. For the rest of the year the avenue of trees provided an access corridor for birds, linking green spaces at either end – swarms of Longtailed Tits would come twittering through.

It has now been decreed that all these flowering cherry trees are to be removed. So are the ones on the neighbouring road. So are the Limes in the adjacent Crescent.  Why? I presume it is in case a passing citizen trips slightly on an uneven pavement.

Our visitors today (see below) conversed about the value of a tree.  They had researched that a mature tree in a city had a value of millions of pounds – increased property values, wildlife habitats…

Interestingly tree cutting has been happening here today.  Is this the same or is it different?  We have a shelter belt of conifers that protect the house from the prevailing winds:


But it has become too tall, too straggly, and too thin:


(The hens are very fed up in this picture.  The tree work was meant to start the previous day and they had been confined to barracks, then had to stay there for two days)

So two nice young men came to sort it:


To leave it like this:


Now not too tall, still too straggly – to be rectified by side growth promoted by this crowning, still too thin – to be rectified by infilling with the willow we were gifted last week.

There were also a couple of Western Red Cedar in the Southern hedgerow, which – as expressed by the farmer – muddled it:


One came down completely and one was left as a trunk for ivy and honeysuckle:


This had a Bluetit nest in a box on its trunk.  The Tit shouted angrily while its tree was cut down, then was happy to go back to its box, albeit in a very different looking tree:


A dead Eucalyptus trunk came down:


providing fragrant fuel to add to this contribution to our wood store for next winter:


Meanwhile beans are lifting their heads:


and today the first cuckoo call echoing across from the opposite hill

the first newts spied scurrying around in the pond

and the (not quite first) firecrests seen and heard tszeeing around the plot.

A Birthday Bouquet


Cloudless blue sky and a day off to explore the tops and lanes around the plot – a rare experience (well actually the first such foray). In the rougher ground skylarks pop up everywhere and an occasional lapwing and curlew are heard in the distance.

A large over-Wintering Peacock suns on a fence post


and descending from the top on sunken lanes the steep banks are alive with growth.  The shaded north-facing side hosts the woodland flowers – anemones, violets… while the brighter side has primroses and the first uncurling bracken fronds. We collect a visual birthday bouquet.


Back towards home and the newly arrived swallows swoop over the farm while on the plot the flycatcher busies in the freshly flowering Ash


Robin, Wren and Goldcrest flit around, beaks full of nesting material, defending bursts of song.

Doing it with the rain and the sun

Since so much of our growing things takes place under glass or plastic,


where the natural rainfall cannot reach, the growing things are dependent on us for their water.  This could be arduous for us and worrying for the plants so the aim is to use rain water and get it to the plants with the minimum of activity by us and the minimum anxiety by the plants.

So, the plan is slowly starting. We have started putting guttering on the outbuildings to collect rain water:


and started to channel the collected water to store:


then the overflow water is channeled off:


and fed down the plot (this pipe will be under the grass once it shows it works):


bringing the rain water to inside this polytunnel:


The next step will be to get it from this tank on to the plants with minimum human intervention.  This will provide energy:


to power something I hope to find in this box:


and then eventually the whole process will be controlled by this:


Meanwhile, we are doing proper gardening out of doors:


Aubergine development

Today the aubergine seedlings were potted on to the next stage.  Only 96 plants remain at this stage so if each bear four or five good fruits we might have to make do with less than 500 home grown aubergines this year.

Last year, on our urban allotment we harvested about a dozen.  Here are some of them, together with other produce we grew there:


I must admit those were grown from bought in plants whereas here, so far, everything has been grown from seed. This hotbed, where the aubergines nestle, seems to be working well


It is now quite a few weeks since it was made and the minimum temperature overnight for these plants is regularly five or six degrees higher than else where in the polytunnel.


Latest bird stats:


Escape artists

The hens have been escaping…

As part of their anti-worming experience the hens have been moved to a new, smaller patch and – more significantly – been put on a non-treat diet.  We knew they would not be happy.  They are not.  Today they planned and executed a mass breakout.

Marge was probably the ringleader:


Wattle skulked in the rockery trying to look as if escaping was something she did every day:


and June chose chives as her diet supplement:


They were herded back in and promptly re-escaped, demonstrating the Persistence of Poultry.

The lambs are escaping

Feeling they are babies no longer, the lambs are ganging up in the corner of the field and plotting escape from their boring mothers:


The chicks are escaping

Another set of juveniles pushing the boundaries, the chicks are practising take-off runs on top of the brooder:


At least the courgettes are not yet big enough to run out of their beds (although we know that will happen):


Meanwhile the pied flycatchers are canoodling in the ash and tempting each other with nesting material:



The sun shines bright but the air is chilled.  A strange between time of spring promise with a veiled threat of frost revenge. The birds and the trees seize the present to move on without worrying about the future. We have stepped onto a plot that has been nurtured and cherished for years gone past and now we watch it open up to the new year for the first time:


And today’s Chick of The Day Picture is….


a sheep.

The Catcher of the Fly

An inspiring visit today to Bwyd Bendigedig Fferm Ffrwythau “a totally Gift Economy moneyless shared community resource for the farm community, local community, and wider community. The aim is to have all the basics of life’s needs – land, warmth and shelter, water and food, totally free gratis; a shared resource for a sharing economy.”  Our mission was to be gifted some willow:


which we brought home to be integrated into our shelter belt, which is a bit thin at the lower levels


Giving things away seems to be the way to go round here.  We mentioned trying to stock up on green wood to season for the future and our farmer gave us this:


We are giving water from our bore hole to the sheep in the two next door fields as they have no natural source.  It is helping the lambs get a bit chunkier.


The most exciting thing today was this:


A pair of pied flycatchers which had no sooner arrived hot-winged from Africa than they were prospecting Gribin Isaf Wood Official Nest Box No 4.


New arrivals on the plot include willow warbler, swallow and house martin and the first cuckoo has been heard down at the farm.

The lone wagtail has found a mate


The chicks have about doubled in size and needed a new home:


Larger with more space away from the warmed brooder.  The thing is, this evening they were more concerned about being near the window – where they could watch goings on – than to be warm.  Consequently they huddled by the perspex making cold noises until the brooder was moved so they could observe and be warm at the same time.

Which brings us to today’s Chick Picture Of The Day. Today’s Chick Picture Of The Day is a still life featuring fruit and a chick


So, as the sun goes down behind the old Ash Tree, all is well at Gribin Isaf tonight


Bread and doses

Today, and for the next six days, the hens are dosed with Flubenvet worming powder.  This is not easy.  The powder is mixed with the layers pellets but the problem is that normally those pellets are a small amount of their intake, only eaten when all chances of titbits, tasties and general foraging are exhausted. So the birds have to be deprived of all these extras for a week to encourage them to eat enough pellets to be purged.  They will not be happy.  Also we moved their run into a fresh area and scrubbed out all their accommodation to reduce the chance of reinfection.

We are not really isolated from supplies here.  If we wanted to we could drive and get food every day – but who would want to use time and fuel in that way?  The one thing we find runs out first is good fresh bread so today we started a way to put that right – make our own:


When the chicks hatched we made a circle of cardboard as their brooding area. This was very soon modified to include a perspex panel so we could actually see the chicks. What we didn’t realise was that it would have a much more important purpose – to enable them to look out.  They take a great interest in all that goes on outside their window.  Today’s Chick Picture Of The Day is taken from above while they line up to glimpse that latest happenings in the big world: