Category Archives: Smallholding

Animals underfoot and a deepening misanthropy

The days begin to run together…the feeding of the animals in the morning, the digging out of nettles and docks. The sheep are grazing in the big field now, I have had to go and get them all the way up here (those little dots at the top near the centre):

Farm 3.8

This is the field where my caravan sits, which isn’t quite so secure, so the bottle fed lambs have started following me around when they see me, and I don’t disappear for too long. That’s pretty sweet of them — at least of the two older and fatter ones, Mimi and Mishka. They at least pretend they like getting scratched and a bit of a fuss made of them.

Sometimes they lead:

 Farm 3.8

Sometimes they follow — here they are trying to follow me into the polytunnel. Molly the dog is often hanging around as well, as you can see. I think the lambs make her just a bit jealous.

Farm 3.9

The other two make it clear you are only a provider of food. They also get stuck everywhere, because they’re not clever enough to figure out the concept of gates and other such barriers. They don’t quite get that sometimes they can see you but can’t get to you without coming around the end of whatever stands in between.

I have no pictures of them.

I do have a picture of the Hunchback of New House Farm and Esmeralda — geese move in gangs of vicious hissing creatures, and these two are no different yet I rather love them as the pair of outcasts that they are, I have been running into them everywhere as well:

Farm 3.8

I got plenty of weeding done yesterday and today, some in the lost garden up top, some in one of the polytunnels today while it was raining. I think I may save up pictures to do a time sequence. I am now wearing rubber dish-washing gloves under my gardening gloves, and it is saving my wrists and my hands.

I also sorted out rubbish from recycling from the two large groups of weekend campers who I hate with a deep hatred as they did not sort out their own recycling and one group also drank an insane amount and the other group had a baby — from the amount of nappies there must have been about four — and it was not fun and all the lambs were in everything as well as Sandy the calf. She trod on my foot, and that hurt. She also added an occasional layer of calf slime to the general dirt on my person. She, too, seems only interested in whether I have food, so I have been forced to fix all of my affections on mimi and mishka, and all of my dreams on a bath.

There is Lilly the kid as well, she is always lovely and affectionate. Even Arthur now is nicer, when not butting me because I am being slow with the corn. His horns are still wicked though.

It rains now, how it rains. It sounds lovely and very loud against the caravan. I have no idea when dinner will be, and I left my rain coat is in the farm house, so I shall end this post on a quandry.

Farming: the tragedy of a young German DJ

As you can see from the picture that heads this post, the wunderkind left his blue hat in this very smelly barn of muck. I do not know who he will be without it, I can imagine him without it only with very great difficulty. This barn happens to be where we chop wood which is how he came to leave it. Now it stands as a lonely, colourful testament to his abhorrance of getting dirty or work of most kinds. A lost testament to his dreams.

I can’t mock him too much though. I myself must confess that after only a week here I am rather pining for a slap-up dinner commencing with cocktails where I shall be fully clean, and wearing a dress and nice shoes and the food shall have fancy names and maybe there shall be some words I don’t know, and there shall be lights and mirrors and wine and good smells and I shall be out. I don’t think it is just this place making me feel this way, I believe it is more of a cumulative emotion.

There is a burning circle around both of my wrists from nettle attacks across the gaps between my gloves and my jumper/coat (depending on how much it was raining at the time). But I wrecked great havoc on them today. I am changing my strategy per request to prioritize flowering/seeding nettles along with the docks, so it won’t have quite the daily before and after affect. Ah well.

Farm 3.6

Farm 3.6

This morning I also shared a special moment with the goats, because for the first time ever I realized that I was able to say andale cabrona completely appropriately, and Lilly the Kid came peering out before her bully brother pushed through:

Farm 3.6

Farm 3.6

I also split some wood and spent over an hour sweeping up and collecting the wood shavings from the chain saw. I collected two bags full for the outdoor compost loos, and sprinkling them after use does indeed almost entirely get rid of the smell! No wonder they were used on the floors of all those bars and eating establishments…God I miss Philippe’s in LA, what I wouldn’t give for a french dip sandwich with cheese, a lemonade, and a piece of apple pie.

This place is all right though.

Farm 3.6






The lost garden, and hogweed

No baby animals today, the Steiner wonderchild did them (very very slowly, like everything else), but I did get to start work recovering a lost garden. Hopefully I’ll have time to clear it and start some lovely things growing between other chores before I go!

This morning really started with Molly providing some comic relief by standing on the roof of the wood shed:

Farm 3.5

But then we came to where I hope I will be able to point to and say I left this place better for having been here.

You come to a wire gate alongside some of the sheds, keeping the herbs and veg that once grew here safe from marauding chickens that run loose in the yard.

farm 3.5

It’s some time since anyone spent any time down here, as you can see from the passage down to the gardens — though of course these weeds come up so ridiculously fast:

Farm 3.5

Arriving at the end of this passage is a very long lost garden, a huge undifferentiated swath of nettles and docks and hogweed and others.

Farm 3.5

This is looking back from the other direction:

Farm 3.5

The wunderkind began an attack on this later in the day with a strimmer — again, I so so missed the scythe. It is so much more useful as it cuts closer to the soil, apart from the noise and the petrol. You work your way along the edge of this towards a garden a little less lost, a series of raised beds, and bark put down between some of them to preserve the paths. What I also wouldn’t give for the little semicircular blade that would clear the paths…ah well.

Farm 3.5

Continue further — on your right, and down below you find Lilly and her mean father, Arthur:

Farm 3.5

You turn left to see six or eight more beds, with a polytunnel behind them needing reclaiming:

Farm 3.5

The view from the other side:

Farm 3.5

Quite a task! But first, I had to focus on cutting off all the flowering heads of the dock and hogweed before their seeds were dispersed across the farm.

Hogweed is quite interesting — I missed the media frenzy about Giant Hogweed, imported here from Georgia — this grows over ten feet, sending up huge white umbrels of flowers and its sap can cause horrible burns across your skin that may take days, weeks or years to heal properly.

from the Royal Horticultural Society:

The giant hogweeds are usually referred to by one name, Heracleum mantegazzianum. Research by RHS and other botanists shows that, while this is one of the species, there are as many as four other giant hogweeds at large in Britain some of which are biennial and others perennial. However, when tested all these had high levels of furanocoumarins (the chemicals which cause burning by making the skin sensitive to sunlight) and so all pose a risk to public health.

There is also a native hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium, which will be a familiar plant to gardeners and those who like to go walking in the UK. It can grow to six foot or so when in flower but is nevertheless a much smaller plant than giant hogweed. It can cause rashes and other skin complaints but reactions tend not be as severe as with the larger species.

The giant hogweeds were introduced into Britain and Europe from the Caucasus Mountains in the nineteenth century. The earliest documented reference to their introduction into Britain that has been traced is from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Seed List of 1817 where giant hogweed, under the name of Heracleum giganteum was listed among seeds supplied to Kew by the Russian Gorenki Botanic Gardens. They were soon introduced into the horticultural trade and being aesthetically impressive plants, were widely planted in ornamental gardens throughout Britain. Unfortunately they quickly escaped from cultivation with the first naturalised (‘wild’) population recorded in Cambridgeshire in 1828, and are now widely naturalised as invasive species throughout much of Britain and Europe.

What they don’t note is that the shoots of the native hogweed are apparently quite delicious steamed and buttered. I definitely want to try that. In picking them, however, they are still not pleasant to handle so gloves must be worn. They can’t be strimmed, because that can send the sap shooting across your skin (again a scythe wouldn’t have that problem) with force, which makes it even more painful. They have to be dug out one by one — I didn’t do that today, just walked around the very considerable field that has recently been mowed picking off the flower tops.

Here is some alongside the little bit that has been left as woodland, and where willow grows aplenty for use by the wood and willow-worker who has workspace here.

Farm 3.5

I picked a plethora, and tiring as it was, I got to explore the far end of the field where I had not yet been (except when I was sitting in the tractor). I found another badger sett! A lone one, but seems to be well used.

Farm 3.5

The views are stunning, back down across the farm:

Farm 3.5

Across the other field that will at some point become hay:

Farm 3.5

It started raining in the middle of this, and has not yet stopped. I did a little more work on the lost garden, but left my ipod in the caravan so have no work-done picture. We have a half day tomorrow, so I will get one then I suppose.

Long day, but a good one. In other news, my last rejection apparently wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it was yesterday as I skimmed it over. But I still haven’t been able to read it again myself. Time for all things.


How Those Big Black Bales in Fields are Made, and Baby Animals

They are made with a mix of equipment, a number of tractors, specialised machinery. You start with your field of course:

Farm 3.1

You cut the grass (we are making silage here, not hay) with your rather older tractor and blades:

farm 3.3

You spread the grass out fairly evenly, because the farmer down the way is bringing in newer, more specialised equipment that requires this:

Farm 3.4

And then the bad boys come along — a father and son duo who have bought these to manage their own 200 acres and earn more money from them helping smaller farmers out because look at what these tractors do. The first collects all the spread hay into larger lines the correct size:

farm 3.4

Correct size for what? For this massive tractor-baler combination that sweeps up the hay and spins it all into this round bale so fast the air is whipped right out of it:

Farm 3.4

It pings when ready, and the driver waits a moment, and then as the bale is being wrapped in black plastic wrap, he can continue forming the next bale:

Farm 3.4

I know it pings because, look at me! I’m in a tractor! It was pretty awesome.

farm 3.4

Also awesome was sitting for a while and watching the tractors at work, it had been a long hard day.

Farm 3.4

I also learned to chop wood today, and learned that I really enjoy chopping wood. It started out humbling because I was really really terrible. But I got better.

Farm 4.3

And finally, the baby animals that started and ended my work day:

Sandy, the lovely calf:

Farm 3.4

I love her.

The lambs are alright, but fight and fight to get their milk and do all kinds of headbutting at the bottles so they often lose their grip all together — Sandy just gives one great head butt when she’s finished (I so was not ready for that my first go round), but still I feel for the mothers of the animal kingdom. I have to catch two of the lambs in this pen and feed them, and then the other two, or total mayhem will ensue because these are greedy little buggers:

Farm 3.4

Lilly the Kid, perched up on this brick asking me for more corn after her bottle — she is too little to push her way in amongst the others to get to the one of the two buckets.

Farm 3.4

We also found this perfect little mouse’s nest under the shed we moved from the field that was mowed, it was quite wondrous:

Farm 4.3

All of these things help me feel a little better after continuing to receive rejections, a particularly mean one today. At least the £1,000 advance from Verso stands against the flow…

For lots more on farming…



The great mucking out

A long day, tiring day today — it occurred to me that this is the first place that is actually fully engaged in what I always thought of as farming. I know that realisation is a bit slow to hit me, but it is very different from the other two places. So we started with the baby animals as always. They are quickly becoming ‘work’ rather than ‘baby animals’, though I am trying to fight it. I am still learning, and realised feeding a big lamb half a bottle and a small lamb a full bottle in one pen is a really bad idea. I ended up mostly sitting on the big lamb once it had finished, but the poor little guy got his full meal. Then off to feed Lilly the Kid, and Bob joined us there and so part of the morning was spent mucking out the goats. When I came back to start it was quite a crew, attracted by the corn and the hay:

farm 3.3

This is now clear with the help of a 15 year old German boy, here because Steiner schools require all children that age to spend a month on the farm. He likes to be always clean, he wears almost only cobalt blue shirts with a little straw fedora of a matching colour (though he broke out the white tank top today), has very cool mirrored sunglasses, and he wants to be a DJ — I have heard a lot of German dance music in the past two days.

That done, we got the sheep shed ready for Bob to come in with the tractor and take the immense amount of muck away — disassembling the pen and removing all the layers of disgusting from the troughs and things. Thank god the tractor can be used to rid the place of several feet of ugh. I weeded for a bit. Then we took a little break to watch Bob begin mowing our field — I do really love tractors. We had some German dance music. We span around clockwise three times to make sure the skies stayed blue, on pagan advice. It is quite a team we have here.

farm 3.3

Then I mucked out the front of the cattle shed for a few hours. But it was made better by a few episodes more of Night Vale.

I took no pictures of the muck.

Fed the baby animals, and the rest of the goats as well.

The view from my caravan at the end of the day, with Molly’s destroyed football in just the right place to ruin everything tomorrow when the neighbour with the bailer comes to roll all of this up for silage (a process where grass is collected wet and sealed up to ferment through an anaerobic process — anaerobic, how cool is that? Meaning without oxygen, like early life on the planet don’t you know…):

farm 3.3

So tired. Also, a badger sett.

The highlight was a badger sett, but today started with a discussion of cows and their rumen over breakfast, but I am almost too tired to type more, and besides, Bob has promised to show me the cud as it is brought up and travels down again. So really, I will start with the bottle-feeding of the animals:

Farm 3.2

I was licked by a calf for the first time — people promised it would be sweet and it really was, though also the tongue was rough and also very saliva covered. I still have not taken a picture of the calf. We fed the lambs, and then the goat, and then saw to some ewe complaints (conjunctivitis and a bit of lameness). There are lots of babies around here:

Farm 3.2

Goslings soon, hopefully.

Then off down to another field in the village, to use the strimmer on loads of nettles and docks and spreading thistles, and to dig out some bow thistles and cut off at the roots more spreading thistles and docks. I missed the scythe.

It was a beautiful large field split in half by a little stream, very beautiful. This is some of the carnage we left behind after hours of work on this very warm sunny day.

Farm 3.2

The top of the field and its lovely marshy bit:

Farm 3.2

And the view down to the other end of the field.

Farm 3.2

Apart from how beautiful this field is, it has another curious characteristic. It is mostly sand. A rarity in this limestone district, and Bob thinks deposited here by glacial activity. Because it is sand, there is a lovely long sandy bank along the edge of the field facing the pub. All along the bank you can see these dug into it:

badger sett

This one was even more impressive:

Farm 3.2

The trail of grass shows that it is now in use — there is even a larger sett behind the houses across the road. While this group used always to be an auxiliary sett–with one dug then left to go out of use and then used again and more being dug–it now seems it is no longer auxiliary.

This one even had tracks pressed into the moist soil:

Badger Sett

They are wonderful. Bob said he saw two young ones playing about on the top of the bank and he approached slowly and got close enough to just put his foot on the back of one them — just to see what it would do. It wasn’t terribly impressed and just ambled off, like he couldn’t be seen. I was jealous, I have yet to see a badger. But I have a feeling you could see them sitting in front of the pub opposite.

After lunch we did some hot dirty work sorting metal recycling, and then I pulled nettles and more nettles from the path to the caravans.

I finished reading Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selbourne this evening before dinner. Sitting in a chair in front of the caravan, listening to the birds and staring up the field and nodding off from time to time. I felt for a moment that I should do all of these blogs in his epistolary style, but was too tired this evening.

A blackbird did, however, today fly into K’s caravan where her dog was understandably surprised, and put no little effort into catching and killing it. I have known blackbirds to fly into caravans no less than seven times, generally in May and June when…

But no, effort.

I might go to sleep soon, but it’s only just gone 9.


First day on the new farm

It is beautiful — they have all been beautiful but this is absurdly picturesque and scenic and also messy due to being a working farm, so I love it. It is very close to Wirksworth, funnily enough, where last year we had some terrifying apocryphal adventures, and some incredible real adventures, cementing my love for this area just south of the Peak District. I think it will only grow here, this farm has:

An awesome dog
a couple of cats I have only seen from afar

We are bottle feeding lambs, a goat and a calf.

This farm also has barrows and a quarry and an old lime kiln, I took a walk up through the fields today with the little guide, and I shall write more but here are a few pictures, a view from the top of the mounds with all the hawthornes in bloom:

Farm 3.1

The quarry:

Farm 3.1

Farm 3.1

Herefords! I learned lots about these guys today, but am too tired to share

Farm 3.1

Coming back up the lane:

Farm 3.1

Farm 3.1

Home for the next month:

Farm 3.1

And the view from my door:

Farm 3.1


Walking through a permaculture garden

Permaculture as a way of life and process for design is quite amazing. I asked Alex before he moved on to the next farm what his favourite thing about working here had been, and that’s the first thing he said — the incredible thoughtfulness of the design. I would agree with that with one addition — how beauty has been incorporated as part of that design for usefulness, this is an extraordinarily beautiful place. I think I have pictures from each section of the garden to do a quick walkthrough to share and remember its scope and design.

It’s hard to imagine that when they arrived here twenty years ago it was just one enormous field, bare and windswept, though with some quite beautiful and fertile soil. Everything you see has been built and grown over this period.

You walk out of their door, past the washing line, and you see this:

Farming 2.3

Three greenhouses (all recycled before they were torn down in other places and the third finished the second weekend I was there with the help of Julian, who had wwoofed with them before). These are full of seeds to be planted out into the garden, and have become ever more important with global weirding, as the weather has been more and more unpredictable over the past few years. I mentioned this with the runner beans, but it’s such a visceral way to understand climate change in counterpoint to everything else I am reading.

To the right you can just see the top of the caravan, and somewhere there is also a giant underground water cistern that collects rain and water run-off which is used to water the polytunnels and the beds when there is a bit of drought. This was constructed with a small grant.

The flower bed closest to the path is full of flowers and herbs, lots of beautiful aquilegias, some old roses, valerian, ornamental grasses. Here it is after our weeding efforts, and beyond it a bed of onions, also weeded on my last day with the use of the splendid English hoe:

Farm 2.6

Continuing forward  you walk into the square we actually spent most of our time — you can see the tracks of our feet marking the grass. The hedges are of beech, and very beautiful — this once giant field has been divided up to create sheltered micro-climates that plants can better thrive in. The differences between this beautiful hedged squares and the open bit of meadow that has been left as a piece of the wild is quite amazing.

There are three sheds here, all very beautiful. Rob & Diana had been considering straw bale or cob, but received a small grant to build these on a very short time frame, so they are wood. I have completely failed to take a good photo of the shed to the right but here is a piece of it — it is where veg and boxes are stored in three different sections, and has a most wonderous wisteria climbing across the front of it. There is also a porch to shelter timber, and you can see the wheelbarrows.

Farming 2.3

Here are the others (or is it just one long one with two entrances? I somehow don’t know, I should have finished this while I was there):


The entrance on the left leads to two rooms, one containing the beautiful collection of old hand tools, which we carefully cleaned every day and oiled with WD-40 on wet days to keep from rust, and another where I prepared the salad bags and Diana dries the herbs she uses in her practice.


The other entrance leads to the room where Diana carries out her practice.

Continuing straight ahead through this square we come to two polytunnels and a line of grapes and berries recently mulched.

Farming 2.3

The polytunnel on the right, where I was collecting salad leaves:

Farm 2.2

Polytunnel on the left:

Farming 2.3

Farming 2.3

Behind this polytunnel could be found the very sheltered and warm area perfect for the herb garden — with the terribly overgrown bed we weeded and the one we began to create:

Farm 2.6

You continue straight ahead on the path between the polytunnels and arrive here, the stack of willow poles we used for the beans in sight (everything is used once, twice, three times — nothing wasted is a key permaculture principle):

Farming 2.3

To the right, the Szechuan pepper and the willows we planted my first day, here almost hidden by their mulch donuts:

Farming 2.3

Continuing straight through you arrive at the orchard and chickens and geese:

Farming 2.3

There is one main henhouse and a couple of smaller ones with runs, to separate mums and chicks from the others and give them a little more protection against foxes and the magpies and jays and crows that regularly predate eggs — Rob was checking down here several times a day to regularly collect eggs before the birds got them. The geese are kept in a separate enclosure with their own house just behind me here.

Farm 2.5

So back up to the sheds, towards the house (meeting Biddy as she stalks down the paths of gravel laid just last winter),

Farming 2.4

Turning right here you would come to the main outdoor vegetable beds, looking straight ahead:

Farming 2.3

Left — I realise I actually have no idea what this shed was supposed to be for, but we never did use it

Farming 2.3

Looking to your right (this closest bed is before we weeded it and where we created the willow wigwams for the beans) towards the bog garden and flower meadow, Rob’s little writing shed in the distance (he never did have energy for writing at the end of the day — something for me to remember):

Farming 2.3

Continuing straight down the main path you can see the duck enclosure (again they have a secure house within a secure fully covered pen, these are within a much larger pen with just a low fence surrounding it where they spend their days — more pics here)

Farming 2.3

And looking to the left, the rest of the beds and the berry enclosure, to protect delicious fruit from birds. There are, of course, lots of berries planted outside for the birds, because this is a smallholding to encourage all kinds of life.

Farming 2.3

Turning right you head down to the wildflower area and the writing shed — Rob has just been down here with the scythe to start to reclaim the bog garden, but I failed to take a picture of this, or the lovely yellows of the buttercups being dug up all over the rest of the smallholding.


Looking further down the wildflower meadow to the end of the property, the Hawthornes blooming beautifully:


To the right is the old veg bed that had been plasticed over to help kill the couch grass and nettles that we partially reclaimed for more runner beans:


Beyond it more fruit trees (Rob has over 60 heirloom apple trees and myriads of others), here is more of Alex’s amazing mulching work with the grasses and nettles scythed down from the forest garden path you can see beyond:


We walk down it and see the little crossroads:


Turning left we come to the far polytunnel


A bit battered from last winter’s storms but still very serviceable, this held most of the spinach and chard we’ve been harvesting for market, all now run to seed so in the process of being cleared and replaced with tomatoes dying to get out of their little greenhouse pots.


Back to the crossroads we turn left now


Newly cut grass and poles coppiced and left here to cure


Looking right we’re back looking at the area behind the two polytunnels that we were working to weed and clear for the herb gardens proper


We can keep walking straight past more poles


and down to the open area just in front of the chickens and orchard (to your left here):


Back up this little path of flagstones we have traversed before to the polytunnel


And then back between the two heading towards the house.


I haven’t really even started on describing the contents of the beds or the rotations — as much thought goes into that as anything else, but it is all in Rob’s head. So impressive. This smallholding is hovering at the line at which it can be maintained by Rob and wwoofers using hand tools and learning the great arts of permaculture and gardening, earning almost-but-often-not-quite-enough income through sales at Tavistock market (Rob is looking for another outlet as he has excess veg at this point) for true sustainability. It definitely feeds them exceedingly well. To make an income it needs to be a bit bigger, but that would require mechanization and more outlets — hopefully we are moving more towards a world in which a smallholding like this one, as well as Ian and Tania’s, become more viable propositions for those working in ways that leaves the planet better for their work here.

As you can see, it is a wonderful place that reflects the wonderful people who have created it. I learned so much but there is clearly so much left to learn here…not least the great wisdom of Diana around herbs and their uses. You can see her website here, she runs day courses as well as her practice, and I couldn’t recommend them highly enough based on our little session on dandelions.

You can read some of the theory and thinking behind permaculture here.

Off to the next farm on Monday! Peak district, here I come.


Last day at the permaculture market garden

I am quite sad actually. It has been quite an unexpectedly climactic day as well. I was sent out in the morning to pick Hawthorne for herbal preparations, I had to weigh into some nettles but I was down in the wilder bit of the garden and it was lovely. The trees are large and covered with white blossoms.

It turns out I am rather violently allergic to these blossoms — or it could have been the plumes of pollen I saw floating in the air from the grasses.

They have kept me company all day.

Mrs. Grieve in her A Modern Herbal writes that ‘Many country villagers believe that Hawthorn flowers still bear the smell of the Great Plague of London.’ Maybe I’m allergic to the plague. But it has been terrible all day and I feel done in.

Still, they were lovely blossoms. Some of the trees were covered with lichens:


I also found an aerial snail.


After that I was excited to use my first traditional English hoe — they are quite awesome slicing through the earth to cut baby weeds off from their roots. I love all the traditional old hand tools here, they are amazing and perfect for the job.


Still dripping and sneezing with my little microscopic pollen friends, I spent the time after lunch picking lettuce and making up salad bags.

Still fairly miserable I got a last good shot of Neave and Foxy, I shall miss her. Mostly. She does a little too much licking for my peace of mind. In addition to my failure to withstand pollen, I also have an inherited failure to tolerate licking and smacking noises very well. It’s a thing, or so I learned on facebook. But I mostly withstood it, she is a lovely dog and it is my own failing.


And still the hayfever continues, despite medicine and a shower and prayers and a light exorcism.

I am now going to try the pub for a farewell dinner.

My last day.


Hens aren’t always good mothers, and planting beans

Long day today, but a very nice one. There has been some drama around the chickens that I haven’t yet written about. Two of the broody hens were given eggs to hatch, and on Friday the chicken eggs started hatching. Not the duck eggs the second broody hen was sitting on — the ducks here are terrible mothers apparently, not surprising given the traumatic scenes preceding the laying of eggs. Though apparently it has more to do with the domesticated nature of the breed. Though it doesn’t look too likely that they have succeeded with the duck eggs either.

The hen started with 12 I think, broke three, and only 2 of the remaining 9 hatched. On Monday afternoon we thought that both chicks had been smothered or predated because they were not in the secure house with the mother. But a few hours later we found one chick with the mum who had incubated them, and another with another of the broody hens. So this morning, we had to set up two (rather than one) secure little houses with runs to allow mums and babies a little privacy and extra safety from jays and foxes.

The calm and competent new mum who rescued one of the chicks:


I couldn’t even get a good picture of the nervous not-so-good-but-trying mum, but her chick is very cute as well and heads this post.

Then it was back to weeding and beans. We planted two more circles of french beans in the broad bean bed. These are white flowering heirloom beans — Cherokee ‘Trail of tears’ and Sarah’s Old-fashioned black beans. I am pretty sad I won’t be harvesting and cooking up these beauties to try them out.

The afternoon was spent digging a new bed for some scarlet runner beans. Two months ago they covered these two beds with plastic as they had been overrun with couch grass and nettles.


We peeled back the plastic enough to plant a new row of beans crowding their seed trays. These are usually just planted into the ground, but the weather has been so strange and changeable the past few years given climate change and all, Rob planted a bunch in trays — and May’s snow and hail I discussed in earlier posts proved he was wise.

The couch grass had died back enough we didn’t need the azada, just a rake to peel it off the top. The nettles though, were well entrenched and required spade work.


We put a line down with this brilliant victorian contraption that I forgot to get a picture of but I will, and then dug out a trench a spade wide and deep



A sprinkle of seaweed calcium balls, some cut up comfrey plants, a layer of rotted horse manure, the old soil raked back over and we were ready to plant. We put in sticks using the trowel as a spacer


In the bean plugs went, mostly scarlet emperor, one per stick.


We planted out the seedlings most in need. Alongside them we also sowed one heirloom borlotti bean which will prolong the crop yielded by this bed as they will be ready for harvest weeks later. When we ran out of seedlings we continued sowing seed directly into the ground, two for each pole rather than one.

I learned that beans climb round the poles counterclockwise in the Northern hemisphere, so that is how you should wind and tie them. That is quite cool.

I also learned how to make dumplings — a heaped tablespoon of self-raising flour per person, half that amount of suet, parsely is quite nice though not necessary, salt and pepper, water until it looks like dough, and then just drop them on top of your covered stew for ten minutes.

Yum. Imagine that, with scones and clotted cream and fresh strawberries for desert. A good day.