Sep 19 2020

Harvest Begins

Time passes oddly in this strange new world, days creep by, weeks seem to fly. The worldwide struggle continues with the pandemic. Gradually restrictions are lifted only suddenly to return: the news is full of contradictions. Now here in England we may only meet with six people at a time again. Last week it was thirty. Soon we’re told it may be none! We struggle on! Life is changing, norms are shifting, wherever we are in the world.

Even the weather in our little corner of Briton is unusual: winter brought us weeks and months of relentless rain followed by the driest of summers. Now we find ourselves at the beginning of a strangely changeable autumn. Farmers rush to cut crops, bring in hay and straw for winter forage. One day the heat is relentless the next we fear the temperature will drop at night to a damaging low, all so extreme in early autumn.

But tiny good things lift my spirit. Walking with a friend recently by our little top barn we both looked up suddenly and stopped frozen in our tracks. “Quick look, who’s that peeping out of the nest box?” Creeping closer we saw a beak and feathers. A couple of minutes later two children left and landed, plonk, on the ledge below: baby kestrels! They stayed just long enough for our photo call before being summonsed for their flying lesson!

And then, only last week, the sound of autumnal buzzards seemed to come closer and closer to the house. Usually they whirl across the sky on the far side of the valley but this year is different. One now habitually takes up a stance on the top of the telegraph pole just beyond the back door. Thrilled the first time I saw it, I rushed out with my camera and managed a distant, rather out of focus shot, but oh, such a special treat!

We’re reducing our flock now. Time for dear old Hercule, our pedigree Whiteface ram, to move on to pastures new. He’s served his time well with us and produced some great offspring. But now he is too closely related to our ewes and must join a new flock.

Last week Paul had a wonderful, if slightly strange day selling sheep at the annual Whiteface sale. All masked up, farmers led their sheep into the pens at Exeter Livestock market. Judging commenced and, too our delight, we gained two first prizes. One for a pen of Whiteface yearlings and the second for a small group of cross breed Whiteface/ Suffolk girls. The latter made us smile!

It must have been eighteen months or more ago now, when walking dogs on the top fields, I came face to face with our neighbour’s handsome Suffolk ram in with our Whiteface ewes. Hm, I said to myself, I wonder what you doing here! A silly question; lambing time revealed all. And these were the yearlings that gave us first prize!

All sales successful, Paul returned with an empty trailer, two first prizes and a nice cheque! Flock reduced! Now we just have our ewes and last year lambs who are looking good and growing fast.

And now harvest begins. As the farmers all around are racing to bring in their crops so I am too, here in the garden.  I gather vegetables and fruit daily either for our supper or winter treats in the deep freeze. The raspberry crop was wonderful and we even had a bowl of cherries for the first time from our old tree; I fear it may be its swan song !

Beans have been wonderful too this year, both French and Runner. That is till our great pine tree suddenly toppled over one breakfast time. We jumped to our feet wondering at the loud cracking, crunching noise. Rushing outside we looked first at the roof, then the road in case of accident. We found nothing until we went to the yard to feed the animals and found the huge tree crushing the beech hedge and lying across the vegetable garden. It was a still day, no strong wind. How strange we thought but can only think it was the result of the very wet winter followed by such a dry hot summer. The roots did seem very shallow for such a giant. How sad it was to see the magnificent pine destroyed on the ground.

The tomatoes have been spectacular this year. As the season draws to a close. I wonder just how many more we can eat and how many more will fit in the freezer!! I have dried them in a cool oven, made ratatouille, tomato sauce for winter pastas, frozen bags full just as is, straight from the vine. And still there are plenty. How I love my own summer tomatoes but have to admit I’m not so enamoured with winter supermarket specimens! Hydroponics, aquaponics all so scientifically proven just don’t seem to deliver the flavour of a home-grown chap!!

I often make a sort of Salad Niçoise with tomatoes, anchovy, olives and our own cucumber, lettuce and little new potatoes and whatever else I have in the fridge. Today it is the turn of a beautiful piece of fresh tuna. A spatchcocked chicken is delicious with roasted tomatoes, as is a quick pasta with fresh tomatoes, chili, garlic, plenty of olive oil and parmesan. And so, I could go on and on!

I planted three cucumbers amongst the tomatoes and they too have been prolific. Deliciously sweet and tasting of so much more than just water, they have found their way into pickles and endless salads, accompanied cheese at lunchtime and, when too large and yellow, have been enjoyed by chickens.

Six new girls came to join us last week: a Blue Maran, a Splash Maran, a Rhode Island Rock, a Speckled Gold and two Light Sussex!  Gradually this rather startled group of youngsters are settling down with our five senior orange ladies. When the pecking order is re-established we look forward to a variety of coloured eggs!

The garden is just beginning to show signs of autumn. Trees have a tired look and show just a hint of the golden time to come.

Roses bloom on stoically, but generally there is a windswept look creeping into the valley and I ponder when the first frost will arrive.  

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