Willow talk notes

Willow capkins - 21st April 2010Over the past few days I have been sorting through old notebooks; revisiting past to do lists, notes from different gardens, bits and pieces from work and other random things I have started writing.

In amongst it all I found some notes from a talk about willow I went to some years ago, since then I have learnt how informative it is to put dates on things, whatever they might be. If I remember correctly the talk was by The Willow Bank and has been one that I still remember and often use what information I’d remembered from it.

  • Willow mainly travels by seed, similar to dandelion but also by cuttings which travel down streams and water sources and take root, hence why willow is so common on river banks.
  • Willow hybridises itself and so most areas have their own unique variety
  • Willow seeds do not store well which is why cuttings are used, this creates ‘clones’ of the mother plant
  • Cuttings have a success rate of approx ninety percent but can be as high as hundred percent
  • Planting season is December to March
  • Growing session is March to November
  •  Plantations will last for fifty years however thirty years is recommended for commercial sites. By the third year a plantation will be almost up to it’s optimum harvest
  • Rabbits are its main ‘pest’
  • Willow has cells in it’s roots that hold oxygen which is why it will stand in water for periods of time
  • Traditionally willow was planted around orchards and market gardens as shelter and because of it’s early flowering attracting beneficial insects

Nanodairy Gathering

At the end of last month I attended a Nanodairy Gathering at Monkton Wyld Court in Dorset. The gathering was an information sharing event for people who are interested in small scale milk production, mostly looking at raw milk from one to four cows.

The event was specifically for cows and not goats or milk sheep.

The event was spread over two days with the opportunity to look around the diary at Monkton Wyld, a whole afternoon  with a vet and Christine Page from Smiling Tree Farm who sells raw milk joined us for most of the second day.

Monkton Wyld Court has Jersey cows, there has been a ‘nanodairy’ of three to six cows since at least 1941 making it possible the oldest dairy of it’s size in the UK.

Christine Page runs Smiling Tree Farm which sells raw milk, again from Jerseys’ cows, to local customers and via mail order. Christine’s farm is completely pasture feed and there was some interesting discussion about the benefits of this. Christine milks her cows once a day, keeping the calves on their mothers until they are around six months old. Only milking once a day results in an approximant drop of a third in milk yield. Christine has not had any problems with milk fever is moving over to pasture feeding.

My notes from the event

Pasture management:

  • Meadow is mown and removed (by taking the crop away the fertility is also removed), pasture land is grazed (grazed land will slowly increase in fertility as a crop is not removed)
  • Grass growth goes up from March, peaks in July, falls in August, raises a little in September then falls off through the winter
  • Rye grass is liked by cows, grows fast and is high in sugar but has shallow root systems
  • June hay is higher in sugar, July and August hay is higher in minerals
  • Plantain is a natural warmer

Raw milk/milking:

  • Older cows have higher butter fats, younger cows have higher sugar content
  • Cream comes at the end of milking
  • ‘Let down’ happens for 4 – 5 minutes, after that milking is harder
  • Cows need a ‘dry’ period of six to eight weeks to allow the udder tissue to repair
  • Mastitis can be spread from hands, washing clothes, flies, etc.
  • Younger and healthier cows should always be milked first

Signs of spring on the Malvern Hills

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go walking on the Malvern Hills, something I haven’t done for many years.

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Malvern Hills ~ 31st of January 2016

The start of this year has been very mild with only a short spell of frosts and even before the Imbolc there were many signs of spring starting

Snowdrops, primroses, dandelions, bluebell shoots and even elder trees bursting into bud (I’m not sure what the little purple flowers are)

 

Homoepathy; A guide to nature medicine by Phyllis Speight

In October I started a four year Homeopathy practitioners course at The Contemporary College of Homeopathy. We have used bits of homeopathy all my life and after suffering some very nasty side effects at the beginning of last year I have decided to step away from ‘modern medicine’ which I now feel lacks effectiveness to treat people and instead just focuses on symptoms and suppressing them often with medicine, that causes more ill-effect, instead of righting the problem.

I saw a homeopath when I was much younger and last year returned to see her again which has really helped me. When I told her I was planning to start the practitioners course she recommended the book that had first inspired her to study homeopathy: Homoepathy A Guide to Nature Medicine by Phyllis Speight and even lent me her copy in case it was no longer available.

Although there have been many homeopathic books on the book case throughout my childhood and I even owned some books on the subject myself this was the first book on the subject I read from cover to cover rather than referring to it as a reference book for such-and-such ailment.

The book is divided into two parts; the first part starts with a basic introduction of the subject before moving onto chapters about Samual Hahnemann, who is considered as the founder of homeopathy, and more detail about the theory , homeopath first aid remedies and how it can support other medical interventions such as surgery.

The second part of the book is case histories from Phyllis and other homeopaths which illustrates beautifully how homeopathy works in practice and the wide range of conditions it can help with which I found fascinating reading.

The whole book was easy and enjoyable to read and I would highly recommend it to anyone else interested in the subject

 

 

 

Samhain

Nasturtium flowers ~ October 2015

Nasturtium flowers ~ October 2015

Yesterday was Samhain, Cetlic New Year.

The day was a pleasant, bright and sunny day. I even found myself working in a tshirt for parts of it. A complete contrast to the days of autumnal rain earlier in the week. Last night was clear, with a thousand stars in the sky and the moon visibly waning and low behind the houses and trees…

The day was marked with a ‘clearing bonfire’ on the field… A smaller affair than had been planned with just me and mother there, hiccups with the house roof being replaced had called a halt to plans of having friends and dinner there, perhaps next year… Some of the piles of broken up pallets, rotten pieces of old chicken houses and kennels a long with other unidentified pieces of timber have gone making way for what is to come. There is still more to go but it is a nice start, a beginning.

Samhain Fire ~ 2015

Samhain Fire ~ 2015

The forest has turned from it’s summer green to the autumn reds, yellows and oranges and swirls of leafs have began to fall on the more blustery days. Next year has already started to take shape; the AI man has visited Bridie and the billy has been turned out with the girlies.

Samhain: consolidate, clear and plan, first months of study, goats mated, preparing the ground for growing. Winter Solstic: prepare for spring, lay hedges Imbloc: Lambing, longer days Ostara (easter): kidding, field working weekend, clocks go forward, growing session begins Beltane: Summer Solstic: calving, growing session, first year graduation Lammas: second year of study Samhain

Picking up the threads

My life has change considerably in the last year or so… The breath -holding-pause I felt after my dad died is now over and instead of waiting to see what life will become I’m feeling more able to shape what my life is going to look like and become.

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Change is something that we seem ‘programmed’ to resist, I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing or part of the human psych, even when it is clear that change is for the best it is hard not to fall back into old habits or mind sets.

Part of the change for me in the last year has been letting go of people who are not right or good for me; I miss what those people were to me once, their company and how they in spired me greatly but those things had gone… There has also been lots of letting go of and questioning the true value of belongings. Over the years I’ve gathered lots of things to ‘improve my life’ which really have stood in the way of moving forward, often quite literally.

As part of that I have of course questioned my blog space and if that still feels right or has parts to bring to my life. It has been terribly neglected and although there are things to write about it has been hard to know where to start with so many months of silence. However, I do enjoy writing and the connection that it brings to others with similar interested or ambitions and I wander round constructing posts in my head with no prompting or feelings of duty or guilt  to do so and so I feel this space is still important and beneficial to who I am and am becoming.

Thanking about what's makes me and happy ~ October 2015

Thanking about what’s makes me and happy ~ October 2015

Other more noticeable changes have happened too: I am now based back in the family home and smallholding which is where I use to spend most of my time and another considerable amount of time traveling back to.

My grandmother has also joined us here after becoming very unwell last year. This has had it’s own changes that have come along one of them being a realisation that it is possible to ask for outside help. For many years there have been jobs that have been half started or left undone because they are beyond our skill set or feel too large. I am sure that this mindset has come from my dad and was part of the many years that he spent unwell and slowly becoming less able.

The effects of living and caring for someone who is slowly dying, not that we realised that’s what was happening at the time, are hard to explain and something that goes unnoticed until a time when you can step back and see things from a different space. Patterns, thought processes and behaviours become habit with no real thought or understanding behind them as everything is paused, waiting for the next ‘fight scene’ (hospital dash, etc.) and the continual decline of a disappearing life.   

The outside help has come in the guys of builders who as well as making the place accessible for my grandmother are half way through replacing the roof and some of the wooden exterior of the house both of which are long over due.

And the final, biggest, life changing change is a little over three acre parcel of land, just around the corner from the house!! A piece of land of our own is something we’ve all dreamed of for many years and opens up so many possibilities. The land have been more or less left for the past ten years or so and so currently it is being ‘mob grazed’ and tidied up whilst we obvious and plan.

The view across from the far top corner

Day Dreamers Meadow: The view across from the far top corner November 2014

Wild Garlic Pakoras

The sight of ramson shoots popping their fresh green through bare woodland floors is a welcomed one after the winter months, it means spring is finally arriving.

This year I have tested out a new recipe to add to the annual spring pesto which was very nice and went down very well at the ‘bring a dish to share’ lunch I took them to.

Wild Garlic Pakoras – I loosely based on this recipe.

My recipe:

  • Pick a large bowl full of ramson leaves, wash and pick out any that don’t look nice.
  • Finely slice an onion and put it in a mixing bowl. Roughly chop the ramson leaves and mix with the onion.
  • season with salt and black pepper, a little chilli powder and turmeric
  • add gram flour; mixing as you do so until the leaves and onion has a ‘dusting’ over them
  • Add an egg to the mixture and mix so as everything sticks together
  • separate the mixture into the size portions you want and deep-fat fry until golden brown

Spring has Sprung – 2015 International Year of Soils

Friday’s sunrise welcomed the first day of spring and saw the solar eclipse.

Spring has sprung - 2015

Spring has sprung – 2015

The day was bright and sunny with the eclipse pausing time mid-morning; filling the air with a feel of a summers dawn or the moment just before the rain pours from big, black clouds that have engulfed the sky on a late summers day.

The time for a New Year’s post has long pasted; the half started notes and reflections for the coming year shall remain in pages of notebooks. Lost until a later time when they are rediscovered in years to come.

“I have been living in the dream of the plants so long I had forgotten to talk to the soil, to the earth beneath my feet.” ~ Taken from Earth Pathways Diary 2015. Falling in Love with that which I stand upon (c) Rachel Corby 2013 

The dawning of a ‘year of soil’ seems fitting for the direction this year started to take even before the start of a new calendar year began. An opportunity to concentrate on the foundations and put in some time on the ‘basics’ and developing a strong root system.

Agricultural Shows

The local argricultural shows have been on my ‘to see’ list for some years now and so this year as part of a big seizing the moment push tickets where bought for both of them and days out had.

Monmouth Show

Monmouth Show Ground 2014

Monmouth Show Ground 2014

The day of Monmouth show arrived first starting off grey with showers but brightening up by the time the Grand Parade happened during the afternoon.

Naturally the big draw was the livestock sections and when we arrived judging had already started in many of the different rings.

Cattle Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Cattle Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Cattle Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Cattle Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Sheep Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Sheep Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Sheep Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Sheep Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Goat Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Goat Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Goat Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

Goat Judging at Monmouth Show 2014

There was a huge amount of sheep entered into the show, a good selection of cattle (although no Shetland Cattle) and goats and a small selection of pigs but they might have just been for display as I didn’t see any judging of them.

Seeing so many breeds in top show condition together bought up the question of sustainability and how much additional feed and care to maintain them and produce a yield is needed. It’s something I’ve been thinking about with relation to my own goats, who has much as I love are breed for showing not for the milk, hardness or meat (although the skins would be lovely). Some breeds especially within cattle breeds look so fragile I really don’t know how they would cope with a major change in diet when farming methods change to be less intensive

As well as the  livestock there was also the craft and horticulture tents;

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

 

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Craft tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

(there were many more craft stalls other than the felts and wool however you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise from the photos I have taken. Wool does create some amazingly beautiful items though)

Produces tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Produces tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

 

Produces tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Produces tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Produces tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Produces tent ~ Monmouth Show 2014

In the produce tent there was the children’s’ section complete with ‘garden on plate’ category, I use to love making these as a child but somewhere along the way completely forgot about them. I have made a mental note of how much fun they are and how they could be used for designing and planning (as well as the ‘pop-up’ maps I use to make)

Garden on a plate ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Garden on a plate ~ Monmouth Show 2014

 

Garden on a plate ~ Monmouth Show 2014

Garden on a plate ~ Monmouth Show 2014

In the main ring a large part of the day was taken up with scurry racing which I loved;

Scurry races Monmouth Show 2014

Scurry races Monmouth Show 2014

Scurry races Monmouth Show 2014

Scurry races Monmouth Show 2014

Scurry races Monmouth Show 2014

Scurry races Monmouth Show 2014

Before the Grand Parade later in the afternoon lead by the best in show goat:

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Grand Parade Monmouth Show 2014

Usk Show

We were later getting to Usk Show and so most of the judging seemed to have been completed for the livestock classes by the time we got there.

I didn’t realise until I heard it explained at the Grand Parade that show entrances had to be from the local area but this did not seem to take away from the classes that they had with good displays of goats, cattle, sheep as well as a pig, rabbit and poultry tent.

Goat tent Usk Show 2014

Goat tent Usk Show 2014

 

Goat tent Usk Show 2014

Goat tent Usk Show 2014

Goat tent Usk Show 2014

Goat tent Usk Show 2014

The cattle area at the show was open to the public so as people could get up close to the animals entered into the show. I always try to encourage people up close to animals and am often surprised by how afraid and uncertain people are around all kinds of different animals, and so stocked at how ‘big’ sheep, etc. really are.

Cattle area Usk Show 2014

Cattle area Usk Show 2014

Cattle area Usk Show 2014

Cattle area Usk Show 2014

Cattle area Usk Show 2014

Cattle area Usk Show 2014

The pig tent had a good mix of breeds;

Pig tent Usk Show 2014

Pig tent Usk Show 2014

Pig tent Usk Show 2014

Pig tent Usk Show 2014

Pig tent Usk Show 2014

Pig tent Usk Show 2014

The rabbit and poultry tents were packed all day

Rabbit tent Usk Show 2014

Rabbit tent Usk Show 2014

Rabbit tent Usk Show 2014

Rabbit tent Usk Show 2014

In the countryside ring there was some interesting displays from someone with some working horses (www.rowanworkinghorses.co.uk )  and a gun dog club both of which made me want to go home and be working horses and dogs myself;

Rowan Working Horses Usk Show 2014

Rowan Working Horses Usk Show 2014

Rowan Working Horses Usk Show 2014

Rowan Working Horses Usk Show 2014

Rowan Working Horses Usk Show 2014

Rowan Working Horses Usk Show 2014

Gun dog display Usk Show 2014

Gun dog display Usk Show 2014

Gun dog display Usk Show 2014

Gun dog display Usk Show 2014

And the day finished with the Grand Parade;

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

Grand Parade Usk Show 2014

 

Bringing home the milk

Our first house cows; Primrose (left) and Sunshine (right)

Our first house cows; Primrose (left) and Sunshine (right)

It has been a few years now since we lost our house cows as TB reactors and they have been sorely missed. We have not been completely without cattle in that time, but none of whom have worked out as a bomb-proof provider of the household milk that we need.

The plan has always been to get another cow and after several failed attempts we decided to go right back to the start and go through what it was we need from a cow: a small breed of cow that does well on rough grazing, something hardy that can live out all year and a young calf who could fit into the family and our set-up right from the start.

To begin with I was very set on a Jersey or Jersey-cross as that is what worked so well for us in the past. There is something special about Jerseys too; the shape, feel and sound of them somehow added to the ‘real cow’ feel to me. However they don’t really meet all the requirements we have as they are not the hardest of breeds and don’t do so well on poorer grazing. Also for me personally the milk from pure breed Jerseys is too rich and so I can only drink it once it has been skimmed or cooked.

Dexters seem like the obvious breed meeting our needs but having had three different heifers plus followers since we started keeping cattle in 2001 I have come to hate the breed; they have an un-tame streak in them that makes them difficult to manage and seem to escape from anywhere and everywhere whenever they see fit (three or four times a day at one point when we had our first mother and daughter team). Perhaps one hand reared from a calf would be different but I felt I wouldn’t have the same enthusiasm for a Dexter calf as other breeds.

After mother researched a few breeds (I was still set on a Jersey calf at this point) she came across shetlands; who fitted all our needs being small, hardy and ‘the original house cow’ although nowadays are mostly kept for meat. So I was convinced to go and see a herd who had some six month calves for sale.

Red Shetland herd - July 2013

Red Shetland herd – July 2013

Red Shetland herd - July 2013

Red Shetland herd – July 2013

When we came away we agreed that Shetlands seemed right, although the ones we had visited weren’t the right ones for us.

Shetlands were originally classed as a dairy breed grazing in the harsh environment of the Shetland Isles were they developed as a breed on the isolated islands to provide milk for the Crofters even from it’s poor grazing and pasture land.  Shetlands became a duel-purpose breed when breeders where encouraged to cross them with meater breeds, and after the second world war the Government denied subsidies to breeders unless they were crossed with bigger cattle which caused the breed to become classed as ‘critically endangered’ in 1981 by The Rare Breed Survival Trust when little more than 100 pure bred cows and bulls could be found. Shetland Cattle are now kept mostly on the mainland and have crept up the The Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s  watched list to ‘at risk’ meaning there are 450 – 750 pure breed cattle that are known about.

We wanted a young calf to bottle feed, ideally about six weeks old however possibly as old as three months if nothing younger was available. Although Shetlands are a duel-purpose breed many breeder keep them as a meat breed as the tie of milking is too much for many people, this is something we have found with other cattle breeds and goats too.

After some searching we were pointed towards Epicure’s Larder who have a small herd of Shetlands (or possibly not now as they were moving to New Zealand) for cheese making. After contacting the herd owner they seemed like the prefect place and so an order was put in for a calf if a suitable one came up this spring.

At the end of March I got an email saying that two heifers had been born, and so a day trip to Yorkshire was arranged for the end of April. When the day arrived we hired a van and set off early, the drive took a good while with lots of road works. When we got there we made the final choice between the two calves opting for the ‘friendly and milkier’ breeding of the two.

Bridie Moo ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo ~ May 2014

After a day settling in we taught Bridie about bottles, something she picked up very quickly although we did need to use a lamb bottle with a softer teat for the first few feeds until she’d got the idea. Then a few days later she learnt about leading reins and then being tethering on the green outside and being brushed.

Bridie is very good about everything and takes everything in her stride, just what we’d wanted!

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; bottle time with my niece ~ June 2014

Bridie Moo; bottle time with my niece ~ June 2014