Hill Farming, lifestyle

Squirrelling Days

The day length is now critical and our harvesting and squirrelling hormones are at an all-time annual high as we prepare for a long wet winter.  This, according to Islwyn who remembers many summers, has been the best ever, so we know that when the rain returns it will punish us!

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The ewe-lambs have gone — up the hill to Deryn, who bought our lambs at market last year and was pleased to buy them privately this year. She and her husband cross their ewes with a commercial meaty ram to produce fat-lambs for market but need our hardy type to replace their breeding stock.

On the day we take them up, three of their number escape onto the lane, Deryn and I give chase — both ladies of a certain age — as they pass the gate to one of her fields her own lambs stampede down to the gate to see her, led by a tame (bottle fed) lamb — she flings open the gate and lets them all out onto the road where they mill around and sniff at our reticent three who stop in astonishment — as does the middle aged man in the BMW, who had been giving it a burst along the lane.  Deryn turns and walks confidently back to the yard and all the lambs follow without question including the three escapees.  I think lady shepherds often do things very differently from their male counterparts and I am very happy that our ewe-lambs are going to be talked to (they know a little Welsh) and are not going to have to deal with shouting and sticks and snapping dogs in their new home.

The ram-lambs are big and vigorous this year and nearly ready for market.  They have horns this year which has reminded me why we always got a hornless ram to serve our ewes in the past —

Prize Ram-Lamb

Prize Ram-Lamb

— wrestling these little buggers in the hot weather in shorts and a vest (me, that is) to trim them and worm them and insert their ear tags has left me black and blue with strange linear bruises and abrasions on my chest where I clutch their heads to my bosom (linear lesions equated to ‘abuse’ in my previous life).  Catching them is not easy —

Fast Forward

Fast Forward

— the last seven or eight are proving almost impossible and we are reduced to picking them off one-by-one in a makeshift trap.   We are  eating our lunch by the back-door basking in the winter sunshine, with the cats and dog reclining around us.

Guilty cats.

Guilty cats.

We  hear the sound of  horn against  galvanized trough — we stop eating and jump up, me and the galvanized husband, and we rush the 400 yards to tippy-toe the last few steps under cover of the hedge to slam shut the gate, trapping one,two or three ram lambs. After worming them and tagging them we release them into the field with the done-ones and return to our empty plates — the cats are nowhere to be seen and the dog wags his tail at our return.

When left alone for a moment Alan prepares to cut down another tree.  He has declared war on Leylandii and is muttering ‘biomass’ — some of ours are 15 meters high and still growing and we have to fell them before they get too big to handle which, in truth,  they have already!

Biomass!

Biomass!

We rope them and cut them at 4M high — they’ll soon green up with ivy and honeysuckle.  This is as high as a man who is probably not as stable as he was, can reach on a wobbly ladder with an anxious wife clutching its base, a chain saw that frequently won’t start and, when it does, cuts out at altitude.  There is cursing and intermittent roaring of the saw, punctuated by fretting of the wife.  But all is rewarded by that sound of cracking wood and breaking branches, the exhilaration as we run for our lives, and that mighty thud…  ‘Where’s the dog!’

It’s okay, he’s here!’

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Then the work really starts as we haul the cut trees to our woodland area to strip the trunks for firewood and burn the brushwood — a reassuring smoke signal to our neighbours that we have survived another day.

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The midges have gone so at dusk I can abandon my kitchen with its bubbling cauldron of blackberries, its steeping elderberries and glugging wine jars to  pick damsons to the rhythm of a pecking bird, harvesting nuts from a nearby hazel tree where there is  the rustle  of a squirrel filling its pouch then hitting the ground running, undulating along under the hedge then shooting up another tree.  They are even busier than we are.

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Ecology, Humour

Doricum spotted in Wales!

DoricumWhen faced with plants he did not know my father would confidently pronounce them  Doricums.  ‘Shouldn’t it be Dorica?’ we would ask.

‘No, Doricums.  The word is derived from the Greek, or possible the Zoroastrian,’ he would concede.  Doricums grew everywhere in Hertfordshire — my dad was not much of a gardener.

Last spring we dug some gravel from the stream bed to create a pool to encourage fish, we left the gravel in a heap at the waters edge.  Normally a fox would have placed a walnut whip on its summit — they do this to announce their ownership of all heaps — sand, salt for the roads, compost, even large mole hills — but this mound of gravel has become subject to another interloper — the dastardly Doricum!

Have you seen this plant before?

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We have scanned the internet and looked at all our books but to no avail — although it does look vaguely familiar — we guess that it is feral or seriously out of context.

Do you have information about its true identity?

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It has been nibbled but not by sheep, this gives it a spiky appearance — we’ve looked up squirrelwort and rabbit-bit in the index of popular names — its not even under badger-nip.

Is this a new species — D. notlikelae?

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Humour, Wales, Welsh culture

The Strange Case of the Renegade Lemon.

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It is that time of year when something in the quality of light, the mist or the day-length, or the heady scent of sun-warmed blackberries in the air, turns the mind to jam. I hardly ever eat jam but nevertheless the compulsion to forage for jam jars in charity shops is irresistible.  One day last week I went home with a complete stranger who thought she might have some spare jars under her sink.

In an area like Mid-Wales where we all spend more time in natural light and so are primitively tuned by the seasons — I am not alone.  I pick up the last bag of sugar from the super-market  — ‘we’ve run out three times this month’. says the lady at the check-out, ‘I don’t know why!’

‘Bake-off!’ says a young man from another planet who is queuing with his minimum-price-per-unit-of-alcohol lager.

‘Jam!’ says the pretty girl with the toddler who is transferring lemons from his mother’s basket onto the conveyer belt.

‘What a useful little boy!’ says I, ‘Lemons!  I need lemons!’  I rush off to grab two — two large unwaxed lemons, I remember it is two because I work out the economics of it ( two large ones  for 80p versus five little economy ones in a net for £2.00 — bastards!)

When I get back to the checkout my husband has arrived and the lady has already put my other shopping through  and is starting on the pretty girl’s– I thrust my two lemons at the lady who adds them to my tally and takes my money as my husband embraces the shopping (bags cost 5p in Wales and I am forgetful and mean) —  we struggle out with arms full of disparate shaped packages and bottles all determined to escape even if perishing in the attempt.

By the time we get home they are more compliant — even the three lemons.  Three lemons!  We’ve only gone and stolen one of that poor girl’s lemons…  And after she reminded me!

Now something very Welsh occurs.

I go to my neighbour down the lane and have a nice glass of Pinotage — that’s not it.  She used to work with the young man buying lager in the previous paragraphs, I recognised him, the one who was chatting to the pretty girl with the toddler — well he would, wouldn’t he?  My friend rings him — he doesn’t say ‘Ah yes, she’s a cousin to my brother’s wife,’ but he does know her sister and, unusually for Wales, he knows her surname which is not Jones — she doesn’t live here but told him that she is visiting  her Dad.  Bingo — we’ve got her.

‘But how did you find me’, she asks somewhat anxiously.  Oh dear, has she come home to Wales to escape a stalker, an abusive husband or the Inland Revenue, has she stolen away this attractive child and come to ground in the middle of nowhere only to be given away by a renegade lemon.

No, she remembers where she is.  She relaxes.  She thanks me for the lemon.

Glenys, the Lemon — that is who she is now, in our local nomenclature, like Dai Bread, the baker, who won the lottery and became Dai Upper-crust!.

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