Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Show time - Part 1

Well its Show time down here (actually it started over 6 weeks ago with the Royal Cornwall Show at the beginning of June, but the local ones have just started). Over the next 4 weeks I will try to do my thoughts on the local Shows, starting with Woolsery Show which took place on Monday this week.

Didn't make it to Woolsery last year (place is officially named Woolfardisworthy West - there is another Woolfardisworthy near Crediton - but everyone locally calls it Woolsery, even the road sign as you get into the Village has both names), probably because of the weather! This year we are going to the Shows as M is on a stand so he gets in free and I go along too (have to pay sadly) to help out and wander around. The Woolsery Show is held actually down by Clovelly at Clovelly Court an absolutely beautiful Estate with dramatic views (when it isn't raining) across the Bristol Channel. To be honest it wasn't well signposted and you really needed to know where you were going, I nearly gave up as I kept thinking that I had missed it and then at the last minute found it.

The Woolsery Show has a reputation for being a good one, but I found it a bit small and wonder if a lot of stands just hadn't turned up because of the weather. Having said that it is one of the most 'cost effective' shows to get into, half the price of the North Devon Show for example and almost half the price of the Holsworthy Show. There were the usual stands for Cornwall Farmers, Mole Valley Farmers and Holland farm machinery together with lots of food wagons and a small beer tent, interestingly selling draught Pear Cider (Perry). There was also a few smaller stands selling things from clothing to garden furniture, cars and stoves. There was a craft tent with some interesting things including some wonderful cards and pictures made up from Photos taken by a local lady, just lovely and had to buy a few! There was a food tent exhibiting local food items but by the time I got there think some exhibitors had gone home.

In terms of livestock there were beef and dairy cattle and sheep with competitions and prizes and also a large equine ring with competitions and fun and games going on. The main ring had all sorts of events most of which I am afraid to say I missed as was either on our stand or wandering round the tents.

The weather held off for most of it with a few showers early and one or two sharp ones later on in the day. It was a bit windy and there was quite a bit of entertainment to see who's tents would fly off first, none did but it looked close sometimes. Wellies were definitely the thing, although the car park looked OK the show ground itself was a bog (to be expected really), the great entertainment at the end of the day was watching the lorries and vehicles getting out of the show ground being towed by tractors, we got out fine thankfully.

Next Show for us is the North Devon up near Torrington next Wednesday (It is the Totnes Show today if it goes ahead with all this rain). I will try to get some photos if it doesn't pour too much and also give some more detailed reports of the activities. This is a much bigger show and includes lots of other types of stock (Alpacas, Poultry and Piggies) and has 32 acres of ground for trade stands so will definitely need a whole day devoted to it, especially as I have agreed to do half a day on our stand. Don't forget if you are going to the shows, wear wellies and bring a waterproof!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Garden

As I mentioned in my last post there was a window in the rain when I could get out and pay some attention to the weed plot (sorry veggie plot). With all the wet weather the weeds have been coming on beautifully to such an extent that they have pretty much strangled the veggies, so action was needed.

M bought a fab piece of kit recently which is a petrol strimmer/chainsaw/hedge trimmer/brush cutter (lots of different attachments). So yesterday I got my PPE (personal protective equipment on - sorry no photos) and got strimming. We can now see where the veggie beds are supposed to be and even better, actually get to them. I also got down on my hands and knees and did some serious weeding and hoeing so now I have found the peas again! I would post some photos of the veggie plot I found but can't because it is so WET!

Talking of veggies we have a small selection, sadly not a fab selection like our friends have got, but then they do have a poly tunnel and his job is growing the veggies. I am most jealous of their soft fruits, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants coming out of their ears! We have a 'wild' loganberry but it doesn't have much in the way of flowers on it (hopefully it will perk up, I did give it rather a serious prune last year) and 3 apple trees. Two of these apple trees are ancient and hadn't had much love for a long long time, so these too were given a serious haircut and one of them has said thank you by giving us, oh, at least 6 apples (not ready yet). The tree that gave us lots of cookers last year was relocated in the spring by the landlord as he wants to put up a huge barn where the tree was growing, so just when it was flowering he dug it up and replanted it in probably the windyest place around. To start with it looked like it had survived and the blossom kept coming (and there was lots and lots of it), sadly now though it doesn't look well at all and we certainly won't get apples from it this year; maybe it will recover and we will get something next year.

Going back to our selection of veggies; we have:-
  • Runner beans but the bucket load - which is great cos we love them. They are not quite ready to eat yet but it looks as though from about next weekend we will be swimming in them. I did try to plant them at intervals so we wouldn't get a glut all at once but it doesn't seem to have worked.
  • Peas. I planted a row (well double row) of peas, probably about 40 plants worth and about 6 came up, now we have 3 that are producing! I have planted some more seeds so we may get more, it may be too late. Thankfully our friends have almost half a field full.
  • Courgettes. Last year these were a bit sad and only 2 of the 6 seeds I planted came up and only 1 plant survived. This year we have 4 big healthy plants which are flowering and producing nice courgettes, only Mr Slug seems to be helping himself before they get big enough for us, so action will be taken.
  • French Beans. Last year I sowed about 10 - 20 seeds and nothing happened. This year we have 6 healthy plants which are flowering and I noticed the first little bean on one plant this morning, so we should be OK for these this year.
  • Sweetcorn. Really don't know why I bother. Grew about 20 plants and 10 have survived the weed attack, frankly it is too windy here for them and I doubt we will get anything. Again, our friends grow hundreds of sweetcorn so we should get some this year even if they are not our own.
  • Tomatoes. M is in charge of toms and last year they got blighted and we lost the lot. This year (touch wood) we seem to be OK (might not be if this weather keeps up but we are spraying them more this year). He has lots on the go including Italian plum toms and lovely golden sungolds and plans to make a lot of passata with the big ones.
  • Garlic. Not a bad crop and will be useful in M's passata
  • Potatoes. Did well on the earlies, actually couldn't keep up with them so will be used for saute as they are a bit floury now. We also have a few main crop which are coming on well.
  • Chillis and peppers. Again M's responsibility and doing well this year, especially the ones we over wintered. We had never tried this before and it has worked a treat.
  • Herbs. Lots of basil, oregano, parsley etc etc etc.
  • Lettuce and carrots. Rubbish, last year they were rubbish too and this year they just haven't come up except for one lettuce and 3 carrots. Have planted more out but still not much coming up. Again our friends have tons so will be OK, but it is depressing that our own won't grow.
  • Beetroot. A few, but again a disappointing crop.
  • I nearly forgot Shallots. Some of them seemed to rot in the ground, possibly because the hens thought they were being helpful weeding the shallot plot, once we put net over it they obviously couldn't weed it anymore and actually the ones that looked a bit limp seem to be drying out OK. Not nearly enough for us, love pickled onions and M makes wonderful winter stews using shallots rather than onions (and other things of course), but it will do and again we shall beg/borrow or steal some from our friends as they are bound to have too many!
No cabbages or brussels or leeks this year, forgot about them, but we do have our friends supplies (hopefully).

I have grown some flowers this year too, (if you can't eat it I can't see the point of growing it) but they are pretty and we have dwarf sunflowers (poor things no sun) and some other things that I forgot to put labels with and so have no idea what they are, should get a nice surprise when they finally flower!

Anyway, at least a major weed operation has finally taken place and we can find stuff now, just must try to keep on top of it all. When the rain finally stops will try to get some piccies of the runner beans as they are quite something.


Well honestly, what's with the Met Office. Earlier this year we were forecast a barbecue summer, and in the spring the Ash was definitely out before the Oak; Oak before Ask you'll get a splash, Ash before Oak you'll get a soak. Then St Swithins day it rained and we all know that if it rains on St Swithins day you get rain for another 40 days. Have to say that the St Swithins forecast has been the most accurate so far.

Last year we had the same thing, June was lovely and this year we had a mini heat wave for 3 days. Even Glastonbury wasn't a mud bath and Wimbledon went off without hardly a drop but NOW, its WET very wet. Last week many of the roads round here were only passable with a 4x4 and it really hasn't stopped (actually yesterday wasn't bad and I managed to get some gardening done but more of that in my next post). Also its Show season. M is off later today to help set up their stall for the Woolsery Show and it looks like it's going to be a damp one. The Launceston Show was a couple of weeks ago too and on the way to work through Launceston (or Lanson as its called by the locals) there was the biggest blackest fattest rain cloud positioned right over the show ground. A friend from work was there working that day and came in about 10.30 looking like a drowned rat, she said she had given up. It's such a shame, these Agricultural Shows are great fun and worth going but can be mud baths in the rain, mind you I suppose for the tourists it could be something to do on a wet day when going to the beach doesn't seem like fun. Hopefully all these wet summers won't affect the Shows, it would be a shame to see them go the way of the Royal Agricultural Show which did its thing for the last time this year. We have 3 more booked in for this season to have stalls at, Holsworthy, North Devon and Okehampton, lets hope that the weather is better for these.

Thing about the forecasts is that it is understandable that it is difficult to long range forecast and it appears that this year (as in the last 2 years) the problem has been the position of the jet stream which should flow well to the North of the UK at this time of year but is actually underneath us. I suppose it is difficult to predict this. I still hear rumours that August will be good at least for 2 weeks, but am not holding up much hope.

What does annoy me about the short range forecasts is that they are often wrong and that must be a real pain for people who rely on the forecasts for work. Take the silaging and harvesting activities, you need good weather beforehand to ensure the harvest is dry and good weather while actually harvesting, with the current weather there just doesn't seem to be enough time in between the rain to do any such activities! I also feel so sorry for all those folks who this year decided to holiday in the UK, perhaps forced to because of the recession and/or decided to because of the good long range weather forecast they had heard. Mind you we do have a friend with an indoor tourist attraction and they must be rubbing their hands with glee, so the rain isn't bad for everyone.

Hey ho, will just have to see if August does get any better and if we can finally use our new sun loungers! Happy Summer all.

Edited 29th July. Now the Met Office has revised its prediction of a Barbeque Summer and says that it only ever said that we would get 65% good weather! If you go onto the BBC website and look at the news about this you can see a link to what was said back in April and they definately said we would get temps above 30 degrees C and average or less than average rain fall. Ok we had a brief hot spell end June but what is the rainfall average, the average of the last 2 years? Sorry Met Office, not impressed and I am sure the folks who booked UK holidays are not either. If you can't do long range weather forecasts then don't!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Lost another one

Sadly yesterday we lost another hen, this time not to Mr Fox. One of them went off a bit when we had the hot weather, all sulky and fed up, but quite quickly recovered. The day after she got better one of the other ones went down in a similar way. Up until 3 days ago she was perching at night and would come out and sit in the sun but wouldn't eat much (although she was drinking quite a lot). As with many animals they hide being unwell well. She seemed perky but just wasn't eating. We checked to see if she had an egg stuck (egg bound, it does happen and can be resolved, and you should be able to feel a hard lump in their abdomen near the vent where the eggs come out) but couldn't feel anything. She had had scaley leg mite (which makes the scales on their legs lift up and can be quite nasty) but we had treated that. They had never been wormed as I had understood that free range birds don't get worm problems often, but we did decide to do this and they are all now being treated. Over the last days when she wouldn't come out of the hen house we had taken to feeding her with a syringe (you try getting a chicken to open her beak if they don't want to, beaks are sharp!). She would take a little from the syringe but not enough to keep a body going. She did have a nice earth worm or two I found for her on Friday (the things you do) and M gave her a warm bath which she also seemed to like. However, although she remained perky and bright eyed (some illnesses you can tell from the state of the eyes and the nostrils) she really didn't get better. On Friday we started to have the conversation around whether we should put her out of her misery.

Now, this is a tricky one; neither of us have ever dispatched a bird (we have helped our friend do it before when having ducks for tea!) but never done it ourselves and it something you really don't want to get wrong! Also she seemed so responsive, if she had been bleary and drowsy the decision would have been easier. Finally, we had been hand feeding her, treating her as a pet despite trying so hard not to see them as pets. If you have a lot of hens then they don't become personalities so easily; we never named them in case something happened to them; hens are short lived generally and they do get diseases and problems and Mr Fox sees to some of them. Despite all this, at the end of the day dispatching her seemed a bit like treachery, even though we would have put an end to any suffering, and although she didn't look like she was suffering she must have been. Anyway we fed her in the afternoon yesterday and she was getting drowsy, in fact sitting in my arms she was closing her eyes and I thought she was going to die then. We put her down and the flapped her wings, looked about, head high and walked to the nest box (where she had taken up residence). 30 minutes later I went back to check on her and she was dead. Very sad, but at least it was over and at least (from a selfish point of view) we hadn't had to do the deed ourselves.

The next question is, what killed her? She hadn't been laying for a few days before she got sick and one hen (we don't know which one) had been laying soft shelled eggs just before this. Although I got high marks for dissection when at school and am keen to do my own butchery (cutting up bit you understand) I really cannot bring myself to do an autopsy; apart from the truth that she was a pet, I am not that familiar with avian anatomy so probably wouldn't be able to find out anyway. We think that she may have been the one laying soft shelled eggs and either one broke inside her (which results in egg peritonitis and can kill a hen) or that a broken egg damaged her insides and that resulted in an infection. Thankfully the other two are fit and healthy, they were a bit unsettled when they went to bed last night; there were 4 on the perch at night, then 3 and now 2, they must notice that there are others missing. We will get more, we will have to for more eggs and so that these two aren't on their own, you don't want something to happen to another one and then be left with one hen.

So ultimately in terms of treating our limited 'stock' as stock and not pets we have failed. In time we will have more hens, a lot more and then hopefully the loss of one or two won't be felt so keenly. It is a lesson for us and one we need to remember and learn from if we are to have other stock in the future.

Promised pictures

I promised to post some photos of the foxgloves ages ago but have been a bit tied up with bits and pieces. Sadly they weren't as good this year as last year, the farmers cut the hedges earlier this year and so cut them off in their prime (the hedges needed cutting on the road sides they were rather wild and made the narrow lanes even narrower). But here are a few of foxgloves, some wonderful sweet peas, the scent is beautiful and the stems are at least a foot long. Also a picture of dog roses which I also love. There has been quite a bit of honey suckle too but again not as much as last year.