May 12 2006

May Days

Black_tulips

The seasons role around again; the valley springs back to life. Cold weather held us all to ransom for weeks, then suddenly everything happened all at once. It was as if a cloak of leaves and flowers unfurled itself across the whole landscape over night. Cornus Nuttallie threw out her white handkerchiefs almost as I watched.

Cornus_nuttalie

Tulips still stand in higgledy piggaldy ranks through lack of winter water, their heads battered by the breeze, and yet daffodils are trying  to hang on.

The plum blossom,  late this year, came and went so fast I wonder if we’ll have a  crop of fruit at all; one day the trees were bare the next the air was filled with a snowstorm of petals. Apple blossom curls coyly on the branches of the old trees and the little pink flowers of clematis

Montana

are popping open as I write. The garden is literally exploding with flowers.

Relaxing_6 

With the sun on my back I dig the vegetable garden with joy and urgency! The soil is beginning to warm but is still so dry after this cold parched winter. I must hurry to catch up, the gardening writers tell me. With what I wonder as I dig. Broad beans are in place, whether they stay put depends on how many chickens escape and make a dust bath in the bed…..

The poly tunnel is back in commission after the empty greyness of winter; salad leaves are ready to cut, strawberries nod with promising green fruit, tomatillos and chillies are striking out and courgette and squash awaiting my attention.

Old_barrow

Seedlings are pricked out and lined up ready to take their place in the garden. I’m trying some “heritage” climbing beans with wonderful names this year; Lazy Housewife and District Nurse. There are barlotto beans and the usual delicious runners too, Peas are germinating in old gutters and Cavalo Nero is ready to go. Paul hates it, but it looks so majestic, a brassica palm tree, that I grow it anyway.

Pricking_out

Tomatoes are planted in the little greenhouse and then unplanted by the bantams; I foolishly opened the door. I love this month above all others; bluebells, violets, ransom, stitchwort and campions carpeting the world.

Bluebells_1

Most of the ewes have lambed now and mothers and children graze happily on the top fields at last.  Fly continues to put on weight, a solitary little chap; our only orphan lamb this year. It’s sad watching him try to make sense of the world without the guidance of a ewe.

I must take some teasing tips for hasty lambing from Paula Wolton. She sent me her news letter from her beautiful farm in north

Devon

.

Paula’s Spring Newsletter 2006

Wow…last autumn I ‘teased’ the ewes to have a tight, close lambing period, and it most certainly worked. All ewes (bar three) lambed within ten days! And half of our calves were born in the same period…a young nimble bull had the equivalent effect on the cows! Not just the cows either. He managed to get an eight month old heifer in calf. So, we’ve had our first teenage pregnancy – very topical. 

Both ewes and cows have done well in bringing their young into the world. First time mothers, including little Ivy, the teenager, have conducted perfectly controlled labours and shown wonderful mothering instincts – licking and nickering whilst gently nudging and encouraging their babies onto the teat within only minutes of being born. They know I’m on hand in case a problem arises and I feel privileged that they allow me to share the breathtaking magic and intimacy of giving birth.

Skye (my non-working working collie) has been watching from a sun trap in the hay barn overlooking the lambing shed and from the straw bales in the cow palace. Keeping a solemn eye over the proceedings, she hasn’t been at all demanding, content with taking a back seat and keeping me in her sight until she goes on ‘fox patrol’ at dusk.

I’m now emerging from this intense period. It’s not dissimilar to waking from some deep dream. You really do feel that you are unfurling, uncurling, blindly blinking and growing back into the outside world. It’s a very specific and special feeling that does not diminish with the years.

I must say that I’ve enjoyed the cold, dry weather. After a week of driving rain at the end of lambing the dry-cold returned. You can see the change in the lambs – as long as their mothers are fed a good breakfast and supper of warming oats their milk is abundant and the lambs bounce with joie de vie. Rain results in dejected groups of miserable, hunched little creatures vainly trying to shelter under leafless hedges. Needless to say there is a large roomy shed for them, but their mothers seem to be of the persuasion ‘treat ‘em rough, keep ‘em tough’!

So many things to tell you it’s hard to know where to begin…

Our barn owls have been very much in evidence all winter. During my early morning and evening walks around the farm to check sheep they have become habituated to Skye and me, carrying on their business of quartering the fields and stooping on prey without concern. On one such circumnavigation of the farm I was walking back up through the copse, my mind in another world, when I was startled by a loud alien noise. Frozen in my tracks I tried to place it – a machine? No.  An elephant? Don’t be silly! Walking stealthily on I rounded a large oak tree and came face to face with the white stag! He was enormous, glorious, awesome – crowned by the most magnificent set of antlers – and only an arm’s length away. Our jaws dropped, we stared motionless at one another, possibly for only a few seconds though it seemed much longer. He was the first to move – throwing back his full head he crashed on (the noise), making a running stride over the fence into Little Hill, an adjacent field, and stunning the resident rams in the process.  He then floated over the far fence and hedge bank, and I watched as those fabulous antlers disappeared into the dusk. What a beast, the size of a horse, muscled and honed to perfection.  Even in winter he was still a glowing white, antler bone bleached, not an albino as his eyes were velvet dark outlined with kohl. Our mythical creature.

Some exciting developments – I am working in partnership with Phillip Baker of Coombe Farm to produce Pies…gorgeous, glorious home cooked pies. Imagine a crisp golden, pastry crust or a cloud of buttery mashed potato broken open to reveal fragrant fillings of Red Ruby beef, free-range chicken or morsels of fresh haddock; each one cooked in a delicious home-made stock and using fresh local vegetables combining flavours and aromas reminiscent of grandmother’s kitchen. At present we have Cottage Pie, Chicken, Ham & Leek Pie and Creamy Fish Pie. These come in three sizes: – 8 portion, 4 portion and a small individual child size. They sell at £3.50 a portion.

Puddings too! The first is an Apple Crumble to die for. Fresh Bramley and Pippin apples gently stewed in a reduced sauce of fresh apple juice and spices topped with a perfect crumble. Puddings come in the same sizes and are £2.50 per portion.

Pies and puddings will have seasonal changes.

They are shipped frozen and are in foil containers for storage. Simple, beautiful, hand-thrown terracotta pots have been especially made so you can serve directly from oven to table. The three sizes are £15, £10 and £5 respectively.

These scrumptious pies and puddings are just the thing to store in the deep freeze ready for those days you don’t have time to cook but still want a delicious home-cooked real meal to boost flagging energy and to put the pizzazz back into life. Although the pies are not registered organic, we use fresh local and organic produce wherever possible. Phone or email me to order your box of pies and puddings.

Joe, my second son, and his girlfriend Jess are having a baby at the end of April. Great excitement, surprise and incredulity from his brothers at the thought of being uncles…and from me who will be a grandmother! Joe and Jess are at present living and working in

New Zealand

. I couldn’t possibly miss out on this great event so just after Christmas, and before I thought too much about it, I booked my tickets out there. I will be away for the month of May. I have a marvellous band of helpers, supporters and family on hand to look after the farm and animals for those four weeks. I won’t, however, be able to have any meat deliveries during this time. If you could possibly make a note in your diaries that the next deliveries after Easter will be either June 8th or June 15th. Thanks to communications and the World Wide Web I will be sending my normal email and date reminders nearer the time!

April deliveries will be on 13th and 14th perfect for the Easter weekend and holiday.

Yes, for those of you who have asked, I will have Whiteface

Dartmoor

lamb available for Easter. Only a limited quantity so please order as soon as you can to avoid disappointment. And it’s quite delicious! We have been indulging ourselves with several different cuts and being busy I have just thrown them in a hot oven with a handful of rosemary and a clove or two of garlic. Perfection has resulted…deliciously crisply browned skin covering succulent, melting flavourful meat. So good it has a 100% ‘ummm’ and ‘finger- licking’ factor.

Red Ruby beef is very carefully reared during the winter months on our special forage bursting with a diverse variety of herbs and plants so the exceptional Red Ruby flavour can be guaranteed. After maturing for three weeks it’s ready for you to enjoy. (I have in fact just been approached to take part in a major research project looking at the benefits of these special factors). If you are after specific cuts please let me know as soon as possible as they tend to go fast.

Remember to order enough to see you through May

Organic, free-range pork, bacon and sausages are also on the menu along with delicious ever useful organic, free-range chicken and duck.

Order will be delivered on Wednesday 13 April and Thursday 14 April

Phone Paula on 01837 810416. Email Paula at paulawolton@yahoo.co.uk

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