Today’s treasures – Autumn 2020

Today’s Treasures – AUTUMN 2020

 

This time last year I was writing about Blackberry Fair – music and mayhem, storytelling and skateboarding, street theatre, poetry and painting, dancing and singing, actors and artists, creativity and sustainability, love, life, living things all crammed into one day in our tiny market town.  Here is a glimpse of previous years  https://youtu.be/E9gONwEOwiI

This year we had to use our imagination to conjure up what might have been and create our own music, singing and dancing in our own homes – and look forward to future fairs bringing colours and culture back to the town.

At the moment, we need to make the most of happy memories from the past and ensure we thoroughly enjoy as many good things as we can.  Sometimes, it can be really hard to see that glass half full and we need some happy images stored up to pull out and remember happier times – and believe they will come again.  The internet is a wonderful resource – we might not be able to go to concerts, but we can watch on YouTube – and sing along with our favourite tracks.  Carnivals have been cancelled – but – like Blackberry Fair – we can watch the highlights from previous years online.  You can go on ‘virtual tours’ of many wonderful places that we are unable to visit at present.

Autumn has been beautiful this year – the pumpkins loved our hot summer and grew enormous, rose hips brightened up hedgerows, tomatoes carried on ripening right into November and the squirrels have been busy hiding hazelnuts ready for winter.  Dahlias blossomed in the October sunshine, perfect blooms in a myriad of colours brightening up borders and dancing in the Autumn sunbeams.  Nasturtiums lasted well into November without any frosts demolishing umbrella leaves and wilting flowers.  Toadstools have loved the warm damp air and the elves have had picnics in fairy rings on the lawn and danced up tree trunks on bracket fungus staircases.  Enid Blyton wrote amazing mystical stories about the pixies and goblins that live in our gardens and look after the flowers and butterflies.  Sometimes we simply have to use our imagination to create our own magical moments to treasure.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

For Sale – The Good Life

Strawberry Fields – Smallholding For Sale

When we first found our dream home, the sun was shining on golden chains of laburnum and frothy pink cherry blossom.  The wooden farm gate was open and as we walked down the drive wild birds fluttered away – and – I remember quite clearly – a jay flew across into the field – the first jay I had ever seen.

The house was totally empty – not even a light bulb was left – but it still felt warm and welcoming and we fell in love with it.  The garden was neglected – no flowers – but the grass had been cut and there were lots of trees.  The traditional Rowan tree by the back door to ward off evil – and a beautiful spruce tree – which we later found out is a Brewer’s Spruce.

We moved in on 3rd August, 1992 with two-year old Dane and Kirt on the way (born the following January), one border collie, two cats and 3 ducks – and lots of ideas for homesteading.

One of the first things I did was visit the local library to borrow books on sheep, pigs and donkeys (google wasn’t around then).  After talking to local farmers, I soon realised that it is much easier to have someone else’s livestock in your fields – all the pleasure of sheep bleating in the morning without the problems of dipping, shearing and all the form filling – so that’s what we did.

But we bought some hens and geese to keep our ducks company – and later on I started breeding New Zealand White rabbits again.

With 4 acres, the possibilities were endless.

There was a massive shed for the poultry – which they all shared quite happily.

The conservatory on the side of the house was perfect for growing seedlings – I started out with growing flowers – and had soon filled the patio with tubs and hanging baskets – and some vegetables – potatoes and broad beans – and runner beans.  Initially I dug a small vegetable patch which has gradually been extended year after year until it’s now big enough to grow everything – courgettes, pumpkins, onions, strawberries, purple sprouting – all sorts of vegetables – and a rhubarb bed.

I also grew my own herbs from seed.  I had brought spearmint and applemint with me – cuttings originally from my aunt – whose green fingers I inherited.  When Kirt started home-schooling one of the first things we did was to make a proper herb garden – we marked out squares with bricks and gradually filled them – then extended them.  The herb garden now contains Rosemary, Bay, Sage, Thyme, Hyssop, Fennel, Lovage, Parsley, Feverfew, Lemon Mint, Oregano, Marjoram, Tarragon – and the latest addition – Angelica – which is a magnificent plant.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-herb-garden/

I used to dry herbs and hang them up in the conservatory – and freeze some (like mint) in ice cube trays.  Now I dry some herbs in the warming oven, chop them in the blender and store in jars – but I also freeze some in small plastic bags which are perfect for soups and mint sauce – and retain the flavour better.

Mint and horseradish have their own separate spaces as they do tend to be rather rampant.  And basil and coriander were grown in the conservatory as they like to be a bit warmer – and also the slugs love them!  They were later relocated in the polytunnel.

I also found that dried herbs make wonderful firelighters – when cutting them down in the Autumn, tie them into bundles and hang up to dry.  They are much better than – and greener – than traditional firelighters – ad because of the oils they contain – they work exceedingly well.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/october-in-barbaras-back-yard/

Dad bought us some apple trees and a greengage and we bought some blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and a loganberry.  A friend gave us a cutting of a thornless blackberry – and some raspberry plants.  Loganberries, blackberries and raspberries all need lots of space – and need cutting back vigorously every year.

Fruits are wonderful for homesteading – when you have made enough jams you can use the rest for making country wines.  Home-made jams taste divine.  Wines are a bit more hit and miss – but they are always good for cooking – and elderberry wine makes excellent mulled wine mixed with sugar and spices.

When I lived in Birmingham, I used to breed New Zealand White rabbits – and I had brought all the equipment with me – so we found some breeding stock and started again.  Baby rabbits are born blind, deaf and without any fur – but, by the time they are 3 weeks old, they are little white furry balls hopping around and they are absolutely gorgeous.  Rabbit manure is excellent for the garden so makes a wonderful addition to my natural recycling programme.  Rabbits like lots of wild plants like comfrey, clover and wild garlic – as well as dandelion leaves – and carrot leaves are their absolute favourite.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/new-zealand-white-rabbits/

So we don’t have a green bin to put out for the refuse collectors.  We have a compost bin, the rabbits eat a lot of the weeds, the hens eat scraps from the kitchen (their favourite is bacon rinds but you are not really supposed to give them meat!), the dog has meat scraps and the cats demolish most of the chicken bones.  And the ducks eat the slugs and snails.  I have also seen the hens eat mice and frogs on occasions.

When digging over the vegetable garden in winter, pause for thought and watch the hens scratching about for worms – stop for a cup of tea and return to find the robin sitting on the spade handle waiting for titbits.

The trees are amazing, here is the beech tree through the seasons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a beautiful silver birch and a really old willow tree – which the boys loved to climb when they were little.

This is the oak tree in the field – with broom growing beneath it.

Some of the hedges are ancient hedgerows with blackthorn, hawthorn, ash, alder, beech, hazel and oak, interwoven with brambles and honeysuckle.

We kept part of the field as a wildflower meadow with ox-eye daisies, bird’s foot trefoil, knapweed, restharrow, pink campion and lots of different grasses.  The butterflies love it and I have spent wonderful sunny summer afternoons counting holly blues, commas and painted ladies – and peacocks, red admirals and small tortoiseshells on the buddleia – and joining in the Big Butterfly Count.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-butterflies/

We also took part in the Big Garden Birdwatch.

THE SMALLHOLDING YEAR

JANUARY is the time when all the garden catalogues arrive and you can spend hours deciding what you would like to plant – the only problem with having enough room to grow everything is restricting yourself to what you can physically manage.

I soon learned what grew well on our sandy soil – and what our family would eat – which were not always the same things!  Peas are definitely better from Bird’s Eye.  By the time you have grown them from seed, planted them, protected them from pigeons, fed them, picked them and podded them – it’s blindingly obvious that frozen peas are a much more sensible alternative.

The first winter I was absolutely delighted to discover at least 3 different varieties of snowdrops growing in the garden, closely followed by celandines and coltsfoot.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-snowdrops-tiny-pearls-of-springtime/

Coltsfoot flowers appear before the leaves, little stars sparkling in the sunshine. Catkins and pussy willows decorate the hedgerows, sheltering snowdrops and celandines nestling amongst the roots.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/march-in-barbaras-back-yard-spring-is-just-around-the-corner/

FEBRUARY

There’s an Enid Blyton story about Candlemas Day – when Brock the Badger pokes his nose out to sniff the air – if it’s fine, he goes back to sleep for a bit:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,

Winter will have another flight;

If Candlemas Day be clouds and rain,

Winter has gone and will not come again.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/2nd-february-candlemas-day/

There’s a badger sett in the big field – our neighbour says it’s been there as long as he can remember.  Badgers make scuffs in the ground looking for worms and truffles so you can see when they have reappeared from hibernation.  There’s also rabbits and moles – so our field is a sort of combination of Wind in the Willows, Watership Down and Duncton Wood.  There’s an ancient beech tree – Queen Fagus – and an oak tree – King Quercus – and on our morning walks we often hug a tree – we can only just reach around the beech tree – finger-tips touching!

Winter is the best time to watch the bird table.

 

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-bird-table-in-winter/

The variety of birds is simply amazing – the first time the Great-Spotted Woodpecker graced us with his presence I was simply dumbfounded.  He is so beautiful – he loves peanuts but also sunflower seeds.

I have also seen a kestrel perched on the fence – and a sparrowhawk on the table outside the kitchen window.  Buzzards are often seen being chased by crows – and the finches and tits love the pine trees.

We’ve put bird boxes up and the great tits and blue tits use them – but the blackbirds, robins and wrens prefer to make their own nests in various places in the barn – especially in the holly wreaths that I hang up ready for renewing the following Christmas.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/new-year-in-barbaras-back-yard/

Early February you can sow broad beans in pots ready to plant out as soon as the weather allows.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/broad-beans-tips-for-growing/

The frogs return to the pond and you can hear them burbling late into the evening, then frogspawn appears and gradually morphs into tadpoles.

Best of all, the birds start singing in the mornings and we open the bedroom window to listen to the liquid notes of the blackbird floating in on the breeze.

MARCH

The daffodils are out – at one time there must have been a hedge in the big field but all that remains now are three clumps of daffodils.

“I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd – a host of golden daffodils” – which I believe was written about Stourhead – but daffodils always remind me of this poem.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/daffodils/

Seed sowing starts in earnest.  My Dad bought me a small propagator which is marvellous for starting off difficult things that like the warmth – courgettes, tomatoes and pumpkins – and sweet peas – I used to have real trouble getting sweet peas to germinate until last year I bought some Eckford Sweet peas – an old fashioned variety – which grew really well

https://barbararainford.co.uk/todays-treasures-the-eckford-sweet-pea-festival-wem/

Time also to plant early potatoes – and the first rhubarb appears – lovely and sweet and tender at this time of year – perfect for rhubarb crumble.

APRIL – the swallows return, swirling and swooping over the fields.

Oh, to be in England
Now that April’s there …
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now …
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—

The apple blossom appears – the crab apple tree first almost luminescent in the twilight of lengthening evenings.  The blue tits and great tits are busily feeding chicks, popping in and out of nest boxes.

The yellow flag irises are out in the wild pond

 

MAY

Beltane 1st May – the first day of summer in the ancient Celtic calendar – and the Druid celebration of fertility when the Lady of the Land takes the hand of the Horned God.  We celebrate with lots of flowers in the house, music – and lighting candles.

Time to plant runner beans and French beans in pots – ready for planting out once the last frosts have gone.  Dig a bean trench and fill it with compost from the compost bin – and put the bean sticks up.  Plenty of hazel trees in the field hedgerows to cut bean sticks from.

Clear out pots and hanging baskets ready for geraniums, lobelia, impatiens and petunias – lots of colour for the summer patio.

The elderflowers are in full bloom – ready to make elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/elderflower-champagne/

JUNE

The cushions are put out on the chairs around the patio table ready for breakfasts in the early morning sunshine – and summer barbecues.  We always celebrate Midsummer Eve – like the Moomin family – it’s a special day – with music and dancing outside under the stars.  In the past we had to rig up a speaker with wires connected to a stereo – now we just have a Bluetooth speaker and a mobile phone!

New potatoes, broad beans and strawberries are all ready to pick.  There’s nothing like broad beans fresh from the garden – and I love podding them – sitting on the bench in the sunshine.  Small sweet broad beans only take 5 minutes to cook.  New potatoes, freshly dug, cooked with mint and melting with butter are divine!

JULY
Hot summer days, the patio is a riot of colour.  The great tits are busy feeding their brood on the bird table.  Last year Daisy, our Dorking hen, hatched 4 chicks and Jemima, one of the Indian Runner ducks hatched 4 ducklings.  Amazing to watch the chicks crowding around mum, as she pecks corn into tiny pieces for them to eat.  When the ducklings are a few days old we give them a bigger bowl of shallow water so they can have their first swim – they get so excited and whiz around the bowl quacking ecstatically.

The raspberries are ripe – and the ducklings love them.  Raspberry jam – and jelly – and raspberry wine.  Blackcurrants also make delicious jam and wine – and redcurrants for redcurrant jelly to eat with chicken – and turkey at Christmas.

The poppies are out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUGUST – shooting stars – lying on the trampoline on quilts and blankets looking at the stars – and spotting wishing stars – and planes and satellites – and watching the bats across the darkening sky.

 

The sunflowers are out

The butterflies are at their best and I can spend ages watching them on the buddleia – and on the ragwort with the bees and the stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare …”

https://barbararainford.co.uk/barbaras-back-yard-bees-butterflies-and-the-cinnabar-moth/

1st August is Lughnasadh or Lammas and marks the first day of harvest – when corn dollies were made from the first straw and bread from the first wheat.

Time to lift onions and set them out to dry before tying into ropes.

Courgettes tend to be rather prolific at this time of year and I’ve been quite inventive in using them up before they turn into marrows.  Curries, soups, salads, all benefit from the addition of grated courgettes.  They are of course best fried in a little butter!

https://barbararainford.co.uk/courgettes-recipe-ideas-to-make-the-best-use-of-courgettes/

The greengages are ripe – I found the best time to pick them is when it’s raining – as there aren’t many wasps about.  They are the sweetest plums and best eaten fresh – although they are also good bottled for winter use.

SEPTEMBER – the harvest – I am usually picking runner beans and freezing them – and picking tomatoes – and skinning them, chopping them and freezing them in tubs to use in Bolognese, curries and soups.

Blackberries are ripe for blackberry jam and blackberry wine – along with loganberries and elderberries.  One year I made a ‘many berry wine’ from a mixture of fruits left in the freezer – and elderberries.

OCTOBER

Rose hips are ripe – they contain lots of vitamin C (twenty times more than oranges) – ideal for keeping winter coughs and colds away.  During the war – when there were no oranges – children were given rose hip syrup from the Ministry of Health.  Rose hip syrup is quite easy to make – it makes a lovely summer drink with ice cubes – and a warming winter toddy diluted with hot water.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/rose-hip-syrup/

Time to pick apples and store them for winter use – the rabbits love them and so do geese.  One of the pleasures of keeping livestock is enjoying watching them eat titbits – during the summer the rabbits have lots of plants from the garden – in winter it’s mainly apples and carrot tops.

 

Make Wittenham Cider ready for Hallowe’en

https://barbararainford.co.uk/wittenham-cider/

Hallowe’en is always special – The Samhain festival marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter and we have a sort of combined Guy Fawkes and Hallowee’en around the weekend of 31st October – with a bonfire and sparklers – and ‘Jack’o’Lanterns.  There’s a lovely story about ‘Stingy Jack’ and how is destined to roam the earth with his Jack’O’Lantern. https://barbararainford.co.uk/halloween-in-barbaras-back-yard/

 

NOVEMBER

The last few years we have had an Indian Summer and the days have been really sunny although the nights are drawing in.  Runner beans have carried on cropping into November – when the first frosts finally finish them off – and the nasturtiums are ‘gone willy-nilly, umbrella and all’.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/the-nasturtium-fairy/

For the last few years I have made an autumn wreath with berries and crab apples and hung it on the bird table, the birds don’t seem to be very interested, but it looks very pretty.

 

Time to clear the garden, remove the rest of the weeds, take down the bean sticks and tidy up the herb garden.  Cutting down or pruning the herbs I found a really good use for the cuttings – I dry them on top of one of the wire hen pens and then tie them into bundles, hang them up to dry in the barn, and they make really good firelighters – and much better than those smelly paraffin alternatives!

Time also to pick holly – before the birds pinch all the berries – and store ready to make holly wreaths.

DECEMBER

1st December is Yule – make a Yule Log with holly and pine cones and candles for the table – and holly wreaths with moss and holly and ivy, laurel and spruce and hang them on the old front door – and the barn door.  I always think about all the other people in times gone by who have hung a holly wreath on the very same doors hundreds of years ago.  Although the house has five bedrooms it has been extended at least 3 times and must have been originally a traditional cottage with two rooms downstairs, 2 bedrooms and a thatched roof.  The study still has the original oak beams and thick sandstone walls – and a fireplace which must once have been an old range.

There must be lots of secrets that have never been uncovered – there’s a wall safe that’s never been opened; when we extended to connect the studio to the main house, the roof beams were exposed and you could see the remains of the burnt timbers where we assume the thatch caught fire.  There are still some old wide floorboards on the landing.

We’ve installed a wood burner and it’s wonderful to curl up in front of a real fire on a Sunday afternoon with a good book – sometimes watching snowflakes swirl outside or with a glass of mulled wine on a winter evening.

December we usually visit Croft Ambrey to see the mistletoe on the hawthorn trees – and bring a small piece home.  There’s nowhere to hang it because the ceilings are so low so it hangs over the Yule log on the dresser.

Our Christmas tree always comes from Holly Farm Nursery just up the road – all their trees are grown locally at Fauls Christmas Tree Farm so are very carbon friendly.

Maynards Farm, two doors down, provide local geese, turkeys and hams for Christmas dinner and we save the last of the parsnips, potatoes and carrots to go with them. We have home-made apple sauce and redcurrant jelly. One year I even managed to grow some sprouts and cauliflower that survived the pigeons and slugs – which were delicious!

And so to New Year and the circle of life begins again.

 

 

 

 

Today’s Treasures – Toadstools

Today’s Treasures – Toadstools

Every cloud has a silver lining – and the exceedingly wet weather we have had this Autumn has been wonderful for fungi – toadstools have literally popped up all over the place.  They are fascinating because they change shape every day, expanding, then wilting, then popping up somewhere else.

Fungi are not plants or animals; they have their own kingdom which includes microscopic yeasts and the largest living organisms.  Fungi are essential in forest eco-systems – their recycling capabilities are vital as they efficiently break down wood, preventing dead wood and leaves building up – and they recycle nutrients back into the soil.

The mushroom that we see is only part of the organism – the mushroom produces spores – like a flower produces seeds, allowing it to reproduce.  The main body of the fungus is formed of the fine threads called the mycelium that stretch out beneath the mushroom and often grow with the roots of plants, The fungus provides the plant with water and nutrients that it can’t get easily from the soil – and the plant provides the fungus with sugars, produced during photosynthesis.

Toadstools have always featured in folklore – they are mysterious – appearing overnight – like magic.  In the Middle Ages fairy rings were believed to be fairy dancing circles – and stepping into a ring was not recommended – you might fall asleep for a hundred years – or be whisked away to the faery world – never to return. Welsh legends were more positive – believing that fairy rings signified fertility and fortune.  We now know that a ring of toadstools simply marks the edge of a fungus colony.

Mushrooms have long been used by ancient cultures., Hippocrates records their anti-inflammatory properties, the North American Indians recognised their wound-healing capabilities. The Druids used the hallucinogenic properties of toadstools in some of their rituals.  Mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds including disease-fighting antioxidants, but modern science has only recently rediscovered what the ancients knew long ago – that mushrooms can be deep reservoirs of powerful medicine.

Amazingly, 90% of plants rely on fungi to live – and there will be many species of fungi that we have not discovered yet.  Fungi already provide us with many things including medicines – and – as they include yeast – we make wine, beer and bread with them – but, in the future, they could well provide the solutions to many of the problems facing humanity – such as unlocking sustainable sources of food.  Fungi can feed us, heal us, kill us – or send us on a spiritual journey – they might also save us!

Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair – Whitchurch

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair not only lived up to its reputation – it excelled itself – there was more music than ever which reached to all corners of the town – right down to Green End – where the birds of prey sat bemused but not at all phased by the guitar rhythms and drumbeats.  This living, breathing celebration of music, song, dance, poetry and street theatre, stretched from the Bull Ring to the Black Bear and beyond – and attracted more visitors than ever -enjoying local food, real ale, mouth-watering fudge, freshly-baked pizzas, and real beef burgers – all accompanied by street music wherever you went in this normally tranquil, market town.

The civic centre was transformed into the fae market – a fantasy fairyland – a fairy forest full of customs and crafts, live music and tales from the wood.  The market hall became a hive of activity with skateboarding, go-karting and bushcraft, making masks for the pirate procession later.

Sustainability is what Blackberry Fair is all about – a carnival filled with the rustic spirit of nature, growing things, Meres and Mosses with pedal power, the Wild Zone, carbon capture, scarecrows, recycling, herbs and herbalists, Surfers Against Sewage, Wise Whales Words; this Fairtrade town attracts artists, poets, actors, dancers, singers and musicians; becomes a haven for food enthusiasts, real beer drinkers, nature lovers, photographers and writers.  It inspires, fires the imagination, screams innovation; young and old are all captivated, drawn into the spirit of creativity and sustainability – saving the earth.

The afternoon culminates in the Carnival of Action, celebrating the spirit of harvest with Morris dancers, stilt-walkers, and fire breathers – and the music carries on into the evening with incredible poetry and music and dancing into the night with THE POOKA’S POLKA and BAKED A LA SKA

see the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWGvEto0Bu4

courtesy of www.rainford-it.co.uk

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Shrewsbury

Today’s Treasures – SHREWSBURY

Autumn’s golden glow bathes the ancient buildings and paints pavements and flagstones in the stillness of a September morning. Benches beckon a few moments to sit awhile to savour the serenity and enjoy the tranquillity of a city at peace with the world.

Churches watch over the market Square, all the saints of these precious buildings competing for recognition, St Chad, St Mary, St. Peter, St. Giles, and the ghosts of the medieval pubs are sleeping.

The castle slumbers, its gardens adorned with autumn colours and Charles Darwin surveys his childhood town from atop his pillar outside the library.

The Severn glides slowly through the town from past to present, past crumbling sandstone walls and Roman relics and on to its namesake the modern Theatre Severn nestling on its banks.  Under bridges, Welsh and English, swirling eddies caressing the banks, the Himalayan balsam’s plum pink blossoms, rippling reflections in the water. Swans circling, beaks dipping, dripping water droplets, ducks dabbling, past Darwin’s garden where his theory of evolution had its first stirrings of consciousness.

The river snakes past the park and ripples along the quarry gardens; the Dingle still revels in the glorious garden displays perfected for August’s flower show, begonias and dahlias vying for the brightest blooms.

Sitting dreaming in the sunshine, we can imagine all the past lives that have made Shrewsbury what it is, living on, they are in the very essence of the ancient walls, the medieval black and white buildings, the saints who gave their names to the churches, the engineers and ironmasters, merchants and craftsmen who changed the world and how we see it today – Thomas Telford, Abraham Darby, William Hazledine, Charles Darwin …

Shrewsbury’s history lives on, in its sandstone walls, cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, all sleeping in the September sunshine.

Published in the October edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

 

Just Another Day in Barbara’s Back Yard

Just Another Day in Barbara’s Back Yard

I was standing at the kitchen sink this morning (as I very often do!) and a sparrowhawk landed on the little table in front of the kitchen window.  Amazing, it was so close.  Usually you struggle to identify birds of prey circling high in the sky above you but this was so easy to identify – it was so close. Even though I stood perfectly still, I must have blinked because he was off in a flash – but the picture in my mind remains.

Daisy laid her very first egg this morning.  Dorking eggs are pale – not brown – and this is probably one of the reasons that Dorkings are now a rare breed.  Although the nutritional content of white and brown eggs is exactly the same – the perception is different – and consequently supermarkets only seem to sell brown eggs now.

Once Dillon learned to crow, he quickly realised he could do other things too – much to Doris’s consternation (she had obviously forgotten about Dillon the First).  The Spice Girls seemed to accept it as par for the course.  I can never quite figure out whether hens like to be jumped on – the ducks however do seem to enjoy it.  When we first had ducks (and geese) I was told we would need a pond if we wanted fertile eggs, so we spent ages digging out a pond deep enough for the geese to swim in.  The ducks and geese did love the pond – but they managed equally well on dry land.

Before I started this blog, I used to let the hens out then rush off to start work.  Now I am writing a blog, I sit and watch them for a while each morning and it’s amazing how much more you notice.  Doris (the oldest hen)) always comes to stand by my feet, waiting for some sunflower seeds.  The Spice Girls are quite adventurous now – and less timid that the other hens.  I use black plastic sheets on the vegetable patch to supress weeds – slimy creatures love to hide under it – so every so often I spread it out for the hens and ducks – the spice Girls are always the first on there picking off slugs and snails.

Doris

Dillon (cockerel) and Desmond (drake) have had a few scraps but they seem to have come to a sort of truce and, provided they keep out of each other’s way, everything’s fine.  I have learned that you do need at least 2 ducks with a drake, especially if you are keeping ducks and hens together – the previous drake insisted on mating with one of the hens and I had to separate them.  (Several reasons I won’t go into here – their anatomy is different and therefore damaging to the hen.)

 

Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

Late November in Barbara’s Back Yard

This year I made a Samhain Wreath for Hallowe’en – there were so many scarlet berries and amber leaves – and rosy crab apples that I wanted to make something with them

So this is the wreath I made – it’s faded a bit now but it’s almost time to make a new one for Yule – 1st December.

The beech tree has lost all its leaves – it never ceases to amaze me how much the landscape changes with the seasons.

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair 2018

The subtle tones of an acoustic guitar serenade volunteers setting up tables in the hall – getting ready for workshops for youngsters – crafting items for the Carnival of Plenty – little ones create leaves for the Tree of Life – and older ones decorate poles with different bits and pieces that glow, and shine and rattle.

Volunteers appear for a welcome hot drink after putting up gazebos and  distributing sofas to strategic points about the town, musicians have finished setting up speakers and microphones – the stage is set for Blackberry Fair to begin once again.

The music changes and we’re clapping hands in time to a drumbeat, accompanied by a guitar – and voices join in singing well known songs. Next come the Urban Gypsies, dancing, swinging, gyrating to gypsy music – looking around, everyone is foot-tapping, clapping, swaying in time to the music – mesmerised – no-one can keep still.

Then comes the Whitchurch Brass Band, trumpets and cornets – and all conversation ceases as tubas and trombones send oompahs and oom-pah-pahs reverberating around the walls.  Lunchtime, there’s such a lot to choose from – wild boar burgers, freshly made pizzas, ice creams, and deliciously decorated cupcakes, with real beers and ciders to wash it all down with.

Blackberry Fair has an atmosphere all its own, the spirit of poetry, singers, dancers, actors, fine foods, real beers, street theatre, costumes and characters, Urban Gypsies and Morris Dancers, skateboarding and stilt walking, jugglers and firebreathers – all join Harminder the Elephant in the Carnival of Plenty procession at the end of the afternoon.

Entertainment continues into the night with live steel band music and fireworks – and another Blackberry Fair comes to an end with lots of happy memories for families to take home.  “Our children made puppets, crushed apples, watched films, literally the whole of Whitchurch was alive, down every street and avenue – it’s the best fair we’ve ever been to.”

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

November in Barbara’s Back Yard

 

We have a sort of combination of Samhain, Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes with a bonfire and Jack’O’Lanterns – pumpkin soup, hot dogs and flapjacks.

Timothy the Scarecrow, who has now completed his task keeping the pigeons away from the peas, becomes Guy Fawkes and we make a mask for his face.  Logan was particularly creative (and scary!) this year with his handprint skull.

Just have two pumpkins left to carve for our bonfire night – the rest have been made into pumplin soup or given away to good causes.  The biggest pumpkin this year went to a children’s nursery – wish I had a video of the excitement in the children’s faces when they saw how big it was!  One year there was a really massive pumpkin and it went to a local garden nursery to promote their pumpkin picking patch – they did a ‘guess the weight of the pumpkin’ competition.

When all the fun of Hallowe’en is over, it’s time to put grease bands on the fruit trees – especially the greengage – if you don’t then the plums all get grubs in them, they rot on the branches and the wasps love them which makes picking them quite precarious!

It’s also a good idea to pick holly whilst there are still lots of berries – before the birds pinch them all.  I was horrified one year to go out to collect holly to make wreaths to find that the beautifully adorned holly trees were practically bare of berries.  Need to store them where the birds can’t get to them as well – as last year I put them in the open barn – only to find that many of the berries had disappeared!

Autumn in Barbara’s Back Yard

Autumn  – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – perfectly described by John Keats

So much brighter – and warmer – today – tidied up the hen house – and found where the Spice Girls are laying their eggs.  They have settled in much faster than the last lot and have calmed down – they don’t skitter away from me in panic any more.  Still have difficulty getting them in at night – it’s almost like they are saying to me:  “Just one more bit of grass first…”  I tell them that they really will be let out again in the morning and there will be plenty more grass to eat!

Dillon crowed for the first time this week – I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard him – its ages since we had an adult cockerel.  He has quite a deep crow (the bantam cockerel we had made a really shrill noise – much to the annoyance of the boys who were sleeping in the room nearest him!)  Clearing up the garden it was so lovely to hear him crowing.  Happy hens lay happy eggs!

Lit the fire the last few nights – my new herby firelighters work really well – just need to show husband how to use them instead of those smelly petrol ones – you just put them on top of screwed up newspaper and you need some really dry kindling or a dry log on top.  Works like a dream!

My two new ‘NZW’ does must have some Californian blood in them.  Half Keri’s babies now have black noses and tails – and ear tips!  They will probably be much hardier – and make better rabbits to breed for meat – but they are definitely not pure bred NZWhites!  Wonder how Lily’s babies will turn out!  They will all make lovely house rabbits – they are really friendly and the Californians with their black noses and tails are really cute.  They are ready for new homes now – £15 each – if you are looking for a pet that doesn’t need a walk every day.