Summer Gardening Tips

Summer Gardening tips

Use grass cuttings to mulch around plants – retains moisture and stops the weeds growing.  Use on runner beans, peas, broad beans

French beans – and I use straw once the beans start to grow to keep the pods off the soil.

 

And fruit bushes

Don’t mulch potatoes – I found out (to my cost) that it encourages blight – earth up instead to encourage more potatoes – and suppress weeds at the same time.

Use straw around strawberry plants to keep the fruits off the soil – the straw helps to deter slugs as well.

In late spring when you repot and split houseplants you can plant the extra plants outside – they won’t be frost proof but they will last all summer

This is Kalanchoe – this year I planted out pink Streptocarpus too.

Once the first broad beans are ripe, cut off the tops of the plants – it stops them growing too tall – and getting blown over – and it also helps prevent blackfly.

And cut off the tops of runner beans when they reach the top of the poles – stops them becoming top heavy and susceptible to windy days – and if you can’t reach them you can’t pick the beans anyway!

Grow nasturtiums alongside runner beans – helps deter blackfly – not sure whether it’s the smell of nasturtiums that overpowers the bean scent – or whether the blackfly just prefer nasturtiums – but it certainly seems to work – and they look pretty too.

Grow purple flowers to attract bees and butterflies – and put out a shallow dish of water filled with pebbles for the bees to drink from.

The Miracle of Life – watching chicks hatch

The Miracle of Life – watching chicks hatch

During lockdown – as we couldn’t go anywhere – I thought we might try hatching some eggs in the incubator.  They need to be turned three times a day so it’s impossible to manage under normal circumstances.  After 3 weeks of patiently turning the eggs (had to set an alarm on my phone!) and topping up the water every day, 3 eggs pipped.

The first chick died in it’s shell, the second chick climbed out all on its own, the third chick (bearing in mind I didn’t help the first one and it died) I helped out, it survived for a while but it’s legs were very weak and eventually it too died.  So, we had one ‘Cheepy Chick’ left.  In the meantime, a fox took Dillon, my beautiful cockerel – in broad daylight – and a few days later – despite my being vigilant and outside most of the time – he took the 3 brown hens as well.

So, I decided to put the rest of the fertile eggs in the incubator.  We eventually had 4/7 chicks hatch.  It was quite traumatic waiting for them to pip (on the 23rd day – not the 21st day as anticipated) – and then being patient and letting them climb out of the shell themselves.  I made sure the water pot was properly topped up this time so the humidity was better and probably helped with hatching success.

Dane managed to get a video of the first chick hatching – it took ages so he created a condensed version – but I can’t get WordPress to add it to this page yet – so here is an image from the video.  The magic of life – how can an egg change into a chick?

In the meantime, back in the hen house, both the ducks went broody and sat on eggs.  Duck eggs take 28 days to hatch (much easier to let the ducks keep them warm and turn them every day!).  As Mr Fox was still around, I shut the ducks in most of the time, only letting them out when I was around.  Jemima eventually hatched 5 tiny ducklings, three of which have survived.  I have found ducks and hens are not terribly good mothers and don’t seem to be able to keep their babies together and out of harm’s way but it’s definitely easier than hand rearing so you just have to leave them to it and hope as many as possible survive.

I’ve read somewhere that ducklings are not waterproof when they are tiny so shouldn’t be allowed in water, but our ducklings immediately found the water bowl and were happily splashing about.  I always put a stone in the bowl to make it shallower so they can get out.

While I was clearing up the hen house, I heard a frantic quacking and turned around to see all the ducklings in the pond – and of course they were too tiny to get out, so I had to rescue them.  I’ve filled the pond right to the top now so they can get out.  So much for not being waterproof!

One night last week we forgot to shut the hen house door and Mr. Fox returned and I found the ducklings without a mother the next morning.  Happily, the others survived and Jake the Drake is now a very proud father taking parenting duties very seriously – it’s quite touching the way he’s now looking after the ducklings when he wasn’t terribly interested in them before.

 

The Evening Primroses are out

 

The Evening Primroses are out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So called because of the transformation of their bedraggled daytime appearance into beautiful, fragrant, phosphorescent, fragile pale yellow blooms when the flowers open in the early evening. Long known for its medicinal properties – since the Flambeau Ojibwe tribe first used it in a poultice to heal bruises and clear skin problems – it is now used as a treatment for pre-menstrual tension and, more recently, nervous disorders, particularly multiple sclerosis.

Its generic name Oenothera biennis, comes from the Greek ‘oinos’ (wine) and ‘thera’ (hunt). According to ancient herbals the plant was used to dispel the ill effects of wine – and the oil does appear to be effective in counteracting alcohol poisoning and preventing hangovers.

A native of North America, The Evening Primrose was introduced to Europe in 1614 when botanists brought the plant from Virginia as a botanical curiosity – many strains of the plant also came to Britain as stowaways in soil used as ballast in cargo ships.

Apart from all this plant’s amazing herbal properties, the roots can also be used as a vegetable – and boiled they taste like sweet parsnips. Personally, I just enjoy looking at them!

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

Midsummer in Barbara’s Back Yard

It’s June and I have finally managed to replant the hanging baskets with petunias and fuchsias – bought this year – geranium cuttings overwintered in the conservatory – and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) bought online as plug plants and planted out into pots when they arrived.  Couldn’t get any lobelia so used Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron Karvinskianus) instead – it’s a mass of tiny white daisies and grows anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year I split up the Oriental Poppies and planted some on the rockery.  They have been absolutely stunning in the recent sunshine – poppies always make me think of Enid Blyton’s story of Greencaps the Goblin who made caps for the poppies to protect their buds – and Cicely Mary Barker’s poem describing the seedheads ‘poppies with their pepperpots…’

A few years ago, an adjoining field was left wild.  People complained because it was full of thistles and ragwort – but there were also some really lovely wild flowers – pink campion, wild roses, white dead nettle – all of which relocated over the hedge and now grow in our field.  They do of course go a bit wild so you have to cut a lot of them down before they seed but I love the variety of wild flowers.

 

Last year I bought a packet of wild flower seed – not a lot of them germinated but the knapweed, ox-eye daisies and bedstraw have regrown this year and have been really beautiful.  Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.

There’s a Broom bush (Cytisus) which has seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year.  I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version from a garden centre which I planted by the hen house.

Unfortunately it got blown over one winter and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – so I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a beautiful variegated version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foxgloves are just coming out.  My aunt told me the story of how the fairies hide their dancing shoes in the foxgloves but – according to Enid Blyton – they hide them in the white dead-nettle flowers so the mice can’t steal them!

The fields have had a haircut – they look so different shaved of grass.  Good job they don’t need to go to a hairdresser, we’ve all had home hair-cuts this summer – and all the men have grown beards!  Farming is something that will not wait for anything – life goes on and haymaking is only restricted by the weather.   The little wild field has not been cut – it’s left to its own devices most of the time and provides a wonderful habitat for voles and mice – it’s full of butterflies in the summer – they love the bird’s foot trefoil and ragwort – as well as the not-so-wild buddleia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The herb garden has excelled this year – and the bees love it – all the purple flowers – chives, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme.  And I keep finding different uses for them – lovage soup was not very successful – but adding some angelica when stewing rhubarb makes it sweeter – so you don’t need as much sugar.

Today I finally finished weeding the herb garden – planned for last week but then the heavens opened! Started early because it’s so warm – and had a lovely time. Took me two hours but during the morning, apart from bees and butterflies, I saw ladybirds, damselflies, a big dragonfly, a green shield bug, a beautiful red and black cinnabar moth – and then a toad crawled out of the chives and disappeared into the angelica. I don’t mind toads, they crawl, frogs hop and make me jump.  The herb garden is near the wild pond, full of yellow flag irises at the moment and surrounded by wild roses and honeysuckle.

A lovely morning topped off with some home-made elderflower champagne!

Barbara’s Back Yard in May

Barbara’s Back Yard in May

I had not anticipated growing many vegetables this year – because we planned to put our house on the market on 1st April.  Maybe we should not have chosen April Fool’s Day!  So, as Corona virus scuppered our plans, we decided to stay here another year, and I have replanted the vegetable patch – and, with all the extra time, the garden looks better than it ever has done!

I finally managed to replant the hanging baskets with petunias and fuchsias – bought this year – geranium cuttings overwintered in the conservatory – and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) bought online as plug plants and planted out into pots when they arrived.  Couldn’t get any lobelia so used Mexican Fleabane (Erigeron Karvinskianus) instead – it’s a mass of tiny white daisies and grows anywhere.

Last year I split up the Oriental Poppies and planted some on the rockery.  They have been absolutely stunning in the recent sunshine – poppies always make me think of Enid Blyton’s story of Greencaps the Goblin who made caps for the poppies to protect their buds – and Cicely Mary Barker’s poem describing the seedheads ‘poppies with their pepperpots…’

A few years ago, an adjoining field was left wild.  People complained because it was full of thistles and ragwort – but there were also some really lovely wild flowers – ox-eye daisies, pink campion, wild roses, white dead nettle – all of which relocated over the hedge and now grow in our field.  They do of course go a bit wild so you have to cut a lot of them down before they seed but I love the variety of wild flowers.

Ox-eye daisies make excellent cut flowers – fresh, simple, and they last for ages.

A Broom bush (Cytisus) seeded itself in the big field and has been truly magnificent this year.  I love Broom and my Dad bought me an orange version which grew by the hen house.

Unfortunately it got blown over and died but I found a seedling in the polytunnel – absolutely no idea how it got there – but I replanted it by the hedge and, to my amazement – it has turned out to be a coloured version.

The foxgloves are just coming out.  My aunt told me the story of how the fairies hide their dancing shoes in the foxgloves but – according to Enid Blyton – they hide them in the white dead-nettle flowers so the mice can’t steal them!

The fields have had a haircut – they look so different shaved of grass.  Good job they don’t need to go to a hairdressers, we’ve all had home hair-cuts this summer – and all the men have grown beards!  Farming is something that will not wait for anything – life goes on and haymaking is restricted only by the weather.   The little wild field has not been cut – it’s left to its own devices most of the time and provides a wonderful habitat for voles and mice – and is full of butterflies in the summer – they love the bird’s foot trefoil and ragwort – as well as the not-so-wild buddleia. 

The herb garden has excelled this year – and the bees love it – all the purple flowers – chives, hyssop, rosemary, marjoram, sage, thyme.  And I keep finding different uses for them – lovage soup was not very successful – but adding some angelica when stewing rhubarb makes it sweeter – so you don’t need as much sugar.

Looking forward to June – sunshine, strawberries and elderflower champagne!

Today’s Treasures – Summer – VE Day and Bank Holidays

Today’s Treasures – Summer – VE Day and Bank Holidays

Summer traditionally starts on 1st May at Beltane – the fire festival.  Bonfires were lit to honour the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun’s light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community.   Houses were adorned with hawthorn blossoms – hawthorn was only brought into the home at Beltane – at other times it was considered unlucky.

The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state.  In 1645, the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles – as well as closing theatres.  Charles II was a much more conservative and tolerant king  and when he came to power he re-opened theatres that had been closed by the Puritans – life in Britain was much more fun during the reign of Charles II so it’s understandable why 29th May was celebrated as Oak Apple Day and became a public holiday.

It commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House.  He subsequently fled to Europe.  Traditionally, people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves.   Charles II survived the Black Death – in 1665 the death toll from the plague reached 7,000 per week – and in 1666 he and his brother James helped direct the fire crews during the Great Fire of London.

Today, being in the middle of another life-threatening crisis, VE Day celebrations to mark the end of World War II in Europe 75 years ago were somewhat subdued but nevertheless thought-provoking.  Britain still has the courage and resilience of the British people all those years ago, the power that Churchill had with words that spoke to the British people – he refused to surrender and inspired everyone that by working together we could win our freedom – and we did.

Churchill opening the Winston Bar in Berlin in 1945

On Thursday evenings, that same British spirit supports our keyworkers, our doctors and nurses at the front line of a different sort of battle – to win the war against this virus that threatens to overwhelm us.  When we stand on our doorsteps clapping, we remember the spirit of those who fought during the war – on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, in the hills – and – like them – we shall never surrender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say.
Some things in life are bad,
They can really make you mad.
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle,
Don’t grumble, give a whistle!
And this’ll help things turn out for the best
And
Always look on the bright side of life!

If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!
And always look on the bright side of life
Come on!
Always look on the bright side of life

For life is quite absurd,
And death’s the final word.
You must always face the curtain with a bow!
Forget about your sin — give the audience a grin,
Enjoy it, it’s the last chance anyhow!
So always look on the bright side of death!
Just before you draw your terminal breath.
Life’s a piece of shit,
When you look at it.
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true,
You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!
And always look on the bright side of life

Come on guys, cheer up

Worse things happen at sea you know

Always look on the bright side of life

I mean, what have you got to lose?
you know, you come from nothing
you’re going back to nothing
what have you lost? Nothing!

Always look on the bright side of life

 

Thanks Eric Idle and Monty Python for making us laugh when times are grim!

Today’s Treasures “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”

Today’s Treasures

 ‘Always look on the bright side of life’

For Mother’s Day my son bought me a heart with this on it – it’s now displayed in the kitchen and every morning it makes me smile – and reminds me to count my blessings.  Eric Idle always makes me laugh.

 

Always look on the bright side of life
If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!
And always look on the bright side of life

 

 

As I write, all hotels, cafes, restaurants have been closed, all events cancelled, and a lot of people are in isolation – but at least it’s finally stopped raining and the sun is shining – winter is over and summer is just around the corner.

People have discovered that they really do not need to travel so much – it’s possible to work from home – and it’s relatively easy to hold a board meeting online.

Families are discovering each other – and finding things to do together.  Books, jigsaws and family games have come out of hibernation and everyone is learning about home education.  We home-educated two of our children (under very different circumstances!) and there’s a book telling our story on https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=barbara+rainford&ref=nb_sb_noss

As our family watched Boris Johnson last night, it reminded me of my mother telling me about the war – and how everyone used to huddle around the radio to listen to Churchill – and how he inspired everyone with his speeches: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  My son remarked: “At least we are fighting a virus now, not other people.” And it’s only toilet rolls that are rationed!

So here’s some happy pictures to cheer everyone up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can still dance and sing, enjoy music and films, sit in the sunshine and watch the butterflies. The flowers are still growing, the birds are still singing, the fruit trees are in bud, the bees are busy and the buttercups will soon be out again.

So remember:

Always look on the bright side of life’

 

Today’s Treasures High Days and Holidays

Today’s Treasures – High Days and Holidays

Our ancestors celebrated the changing seasons with special ceremonies that marked nature’s cycles.  Country wisdom and folklore have been passed down the generations and, despite the adoption of many days by the church, the Pagan customs still remain and we often celebrate them just as our ancestors did.

21st March – Ostara – is the Spring Equinox – The pagan Saxons would bake ‘cross buns’ at the beginning of spring in honour of the German goddess Eostre – Ostara – most likely being the origin of the name Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life.  Hence the origin of hot-cross buns.  The daffodil symbolises rebirth and new beginnings.

23rd April – St. George’s Day – the Patron Saint of England – There is more myth than fact in the story of St. George who, according to the story of The Golden Legend, slayed a dragon and saved a princess – but the story was incorporated into Pagan plays and St. George is a prime figure in the famous epic poem The Fairie Queen portrayed as the Redcrosse Knight.  April 23rd (the date of his death) used to be a public holiday, now we celebrate with wearing a red rose – and parades – St. George is the patron saint of scouting.

1st May – May Day – Beltane is a Fire Festival honouring the Sun – traditionally all fires were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane.  The maypole is a symbol of fertility, the many coloured ribbons and the ensuing weaving dance symbolise the spiral of life and the union of the Goddess and God, the union between Earth and Sky.  The Young Oak King falls in love with the May Queen and wins her hand.  The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state.  In 1645 Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles.  The Green Man Festival is held every year in Clun with Morris Dancing, music, entertainment and a battle re-enactment on Clun bridge.

29th May – Oak Apple Day – This commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House. Traditionally people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves.  The oak tree – or one of its descendants can still be seen in the grounds of Boscobel House and you can also see the priest’s hole where Charles II subsequently hid.

It’s good to celebrate these special days – with a family feast – lighting candles and drinking a toast to our ancestors who were much closer to nature than we are today.

Published in the March 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.