I think that Autumn is my favourite season; the hard work of summer is over, the fruits of the spring are ready to be collected and the harshness of winter is still a while away. This is particularly so this year, after what has been a disappointing summer. Mostly warm and wet, it has caused us problems with the sheep and meant we have been unable to take hay. Twice we have had sheep who have had fly strike. Though they have survived, by dint of debridement and Stockholm tar, this was a terrible experience for both them and us. And, barring a miraculous Indian summer (or Haf bach Mihangel as we say around here) in October we will have to buy hay this winter. So, I am keen to see October arrive and know that the damned flies, and risk of fly strike, will soon be gone.
However, perhaps the main reason for enjoying this season is because it is the time you can enjoy the fruits of your labours and sometimes fruits without any labour at all. This time of the year we usually get a good crop of chantrelle mushrooms in the wood and this year has been no exception. They provided us with a few meals which required nothing more than what we can make on our own plot of land. My favourite was the chantrelle soup the recipe for which is below. This is a luxurious soup, warm, smooth and filling and better than any mass produced soup you may buy. Wonderful when its cost is measured in pennies !
Large bag of chantrelle mushrooms
3 Cloves of garlic
Pint Chicken stock
3 tablespoons of butter
Soften the onions and garlic by frying gently for 5 minutes in the butter. Add the mushrooms and continue to fry gently for a further 8 minutes. Add the flour and mix to a smooth consistency. Add the milk and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
A very handy way to recycle the plastic containers is to use them as temporary cloches. When the cauliflower have 3 or 4 real leaves they are ready to be planted out. However they could still benefit from some protection and these containers are ideal. All that you need to do is to fit a hold in the base to allow air to circulate. They are also good protection against chicken attacks. Normally the chickens are helpful in the vegetable garden as they eat the wire worms, leather jackets and other nasty visitors. But sometimes, just out of badness, they will go for the seedlings and this is a handy defence.
The first potatoes went in today. I have gone for Desiree which were very successful last year. It have opened up a new strip in the vegetable garden as I needed a new area so as not to repeat potatoes in the same patch this year (so far we have avoided potato blight). Unfortunately it is another area with a very heavy clay soil.
I am always keen to recycle as much as I can, especially when this also saves me money or sorts a problem. I need to do some work on the pasture this year, to clear the thatch that has built up, and as a consequence need to use something like a tine harrow on the fields. I had mulled over many possible plans but always come back to the problem of the tines. Nothing seemed an easy and cheap solution to this problem until I was clearing up after we re-roofed the barn. As I was taking down the old guttering I discovered my tines !
The old supporting brackets were clearly almost ideal tines and there were serendipitously enough for my project. They would only need to be removed from the wall and a minor modification.
The tines needed a small hole (4mm) drilled in the metal head to allow me to screw these into the frame in a way that they would resist the tendency to rotate.
The times were then mounted onto two bars. They were sited 16cm apart and offset between the two bars. These were then set in a frame with a long-enough handle to allow me space to walk along with the two-wheeled tractor without my feet getting fouled up.
I discovered that I needed side struts to brace the two bars against the tendency to rotate round. I have kept the heads of the brackets in place as they add to the weight of the harrow and give me, if needed, somewhere to add extra weight (I can run metal bars along these hooks). As a temporary measure I have pressed an old copper pipe into use as the mechanism to attach to the tractor. This gives adequate flexibility to allow the harrow and tractor to move freely but I have my reservations about whether this will be strong enough in the long term.
Over the next week we can see if this will sort my problem or whether I need to go to my second plan (which involves an old gate and a lot of welding !
Storm Doris arrived this morning but we seemed to miss most of the damage. A lot of branches were down and strewn over the road but only a couple of old trees in the wood were actually down. Doris must have brought down some power lines as we lost the electricity. However, as we have the woodburners and the range, we had heat, hot water and the ability to cook. The addition of a battery powered radio meant we thought we had a quiet relaxing day ahead of us. Unfortunately the sheep had other plans for us.
While checking the fences I noticed one ewe who was keeping herself apart from the flock. I thought she might be starting to labour but could not see any signs she had begun. On checking, a bit later, it was clear she was much worse. She was down and unable to rise and was not aware of her surroundings. I thought she had twin lamb disease and gave her the high energy drink. This had only partial effect and we decided on a trip to the vets.
She had decided to take unwell half a mile from the road and we would have to lug her to the pick-up. This was no easy task (she weighs around 9 stores) but I found that a builder’s sack made this manageable with a mixture of lifting and dragging. I am now going to keep a couple of builders’ bags ready for emergency stretcher use.
The vet agreed with us and it was clear that she was beginning to respond to the drink. She gave some subcutaneous calcium and with the combination of the two she made good headway and we started for home.
En route home we noticed that a sheep, we had seen on the town journey, was stuck in an awkward position an hour later. After climbing up a wall, crossing a small river (engorged by storm Doris) I was able to get to her. She was trapped but easily freed.
By the time we got home and returned the ewe to her flock she was much improved. We moved her and her fellows into the top field where there is hopefully more browse. She was back on her legs and moving well. Now all we have to do is wait for the lambing to start next week.
Sometimes I question whether I made the correct decision when we jumped ship; leaving the city and life as an NHS consultant for a life of self-sufficiency in the back of beyond. Today was one such day.
Over the last fortnight I have been troubled by a persistent and debilitating cold. I have coughed and spluttered through the days, coughed through the night instead of sleeping, and generally limped my way though the days while my muscles ached and my brain messed to mucus and dribbled out of everything orifice. I have spend a small fortune on placebos – any overpriced piece of confectionery which proposed to alleviate the symptoms of the common cold – and the entire world I inhabit smells of menthol and eucalyptus.
The problem of having a cold in this new life is that it is not conducive to ‘phoning in sick‘ and then taking a few duvet days. Unfortunately now the goats still need milking, the sheep still need fed and the poultry still need chased in and out, watered and fed.
We are also working against the clock in getting the barn ready for lambing in the spring. The barn has an old asbestos cement roof and it is scheduled to be removed next week. In advance of this I need to remove an old waterlogged wood pile, there is a ton of logs which has been under water for two years because of fully guttering.
Due to the mild winter we are having the ground is
soft and difficult to cross with heavy loads. The Goldoni two wheeled tractor has come into its own in this task and I doubt a quadbike would have managed the terrain any better (Though we still need one of these for the sheep). Although, at times, it was touch and go.
While I plodded through the day my gang of helpers tried to be of assistance. Though finding interesting sticks and attacking the wheels of the trailer was actually of limited help.
As I stood, up to my ankles in mud, covered in mud, coughing my lungs up, in sodden clothes, working against the failing light, I looked at my dogs and goats and thought “Did I make the right decision? Is this better than an afternoon in the clinic?”. Then I remember what it was like working to little avail in a failing system and realise “Yes. I made the right decision”