Whilst making a hurdle in the barn yesterday, I became aware of the wonderful screeching of swifts; a sound I’ve been waiting to hear for a fortnight or so and probably missing since their disappearance last August. Sticking my head into the brilliant sunshine and looking straight up, there, at around 100 feet, were a gang of thirty swirling, churning, screaming swifts. I cheered! On my own in a field. With a broad grin, I watched them for a few minutes until my neck hurt and I feared I might fall over backwards; disappointed that there was nobody to share my joy at welcoming these beautiful, lithe fliers back to Gravenhurst.
Years ago when I worked with my good friend Ratty, we spent quite long periods chatting about important stuff and I recall deciding between us one spring lunchtime, that the house martin was the kind of bird that flew purely for the joy of it and sometimes might enter air races to impress the ladies. Swallows are more RAF pilots, sporting enormous moustaches and not taking their hugely skilful flying too seriously; probably drinking the odd glass of good ale after a hard day swooping. Swifts are different. They are the NASA test pilots of the bird world, flying at huge speed and great altitude, capable of amazing feats of endurance and indeed have developed the technology necessary to enable the air to be their home, returning to the ground, like seals or penguins from the ocean, only to lay eggs and raise their young. They look like they are having fun, but if you could see their faces you’d know the truth.
Returning to the willow, I continued listening to the swifts’ raucous calls until after a couple of minutes it stopped suddenly. Once again, I looked outside but this time there were no swifts. A magical disappearance. No time to ponder before the reason for their silence flew fast and silent over the barn; a hobby. This small falcon is famous for its ability to catch swifts in flight which must make them some of the most highly qualified pilots in the bird world. I believe they follow swifts as well as martins and swallows on migration and they must make distinctly uncomfortable fellow travellers.
I’m hoping the presence of a hobby won’t put our swifts off staying in the village. They usually hang out around one particular house in Shillington Road. I’ll keep an eye out down there this week.
We’ve been very busy since February and particularly in April and May, making structures for gardeners – obelisks, cloches, hurdles. At the same time, demand for hazel bean poles and pea sticks has been very strong and we’ve just about sold all our stock this spring.I think Monty Don may be behind the increase in interest in hazel sticks – nice one Monty and BBC TV’s
Gardeners’ World (if that was the case). Credit is also due to Richard Thomason and ‘National Beanpole Week’ a splendid venture driven by Allotment Forestry and the Small Woods Association. It’s got to be good that more people are thinking about buying local sticks rather than imported ones; it helps that hazel is such a good material for climbing plants.
Next move is to watch out for the Chelsea Flower Show where last year plenty of gardeners spotted some lovely cloches in the Laurent-Perrier garden – and I’ve been copying them ever since – I’ve never said I do anything original!
Jane’s just leaving for Wisley in Surrey for what sounds like a busy day of stories in the wonderful Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens – part of their Easter holiday activities – more information
It is almost exactly ten years since we borrowed a trailer and drove to Ed Turner’s farm near the east coast, beyond Ipswich and that’s a long way east; to pick up three in-calf cows. That was a pretty exciting and alarming day and there have been plenty of memorable ones since – births, deaths, sales, friends, escapes. Despair and exhilaration, heat and sweat, freezing fingers and wet feet; well I guess if you know animals, you’ll know what I mean.Our fiftieth calf was born yesterday. She’s a very cute heifer, produced by mother Rosie. Both are doing well but we are becoming just a bit desperate to get them and all the others out on some grass. However, they will remain inside until either the sun brings some warmth and the grass starts to grow or we run out of hay. The former is forecast for the weekend and the latter will occur towards the end of next week. Hope the forecast’s right otherwise we’ll be in the market for more hay.
Recent Facebook interest in names of the first calf of the year left us thinking that ‘Paprika’ will be it. I really liked ‘Geoff’ so hope that a bull calf will put in an appearance to acquire that one. Number fifty will have a girl’s name following her mum’s line – daughter 1 has just suggested ‘Barbara’. Any advance?
I spent most of the morning wrestling with a tractor that died last night – in a gateway, with a trailer, blocking a neighbour’s drive. Thanks to John of Town Farm Garage (the best place to take your car for a service), who, rather than going home at 6.30 on a Friday, volunteered to tow me back into our field. This morning’s debt is to Meppershall’s own Corinne Harris (the best place to get your tractor repaired) for some sound advice and a bit of thorough filter cleaning. Don’t know what the tractor’s previous owner had been putting in the tank but the filter was well and truly blocked with loads of vile stuff.So up and running and finally in the right field with the chain harrow unknotted, I was in the baddest mood but happened to notice the characteristic ‘lowing’ call of the new mother cow. Peering into the barn I couldn’t see any new additions but there was a load of bovine excitement which turned out to be centred on a beautiful heifer calf; born probably 5 minutes earlier.I separated her and her mum from the others, gave them some more straw and hay, turned on the water and found myself doing some serious gate leaning. A moment to be savoured. These animals need to be checked regularly and on the first really sunny and warm day this spring, it’s a joy to lean, soaking up that warmth and experiencing, once again the miracle of a new life. A cliché, but who cares?
The bitter north-easterly wind leaves your face painfully cold; more January than April. The ground’s really soft in places, but drying – slowly. And that made today just a bit of an anti-climax. We got the young stock out onto grass this morning. Usually there’s warmth in the air, sun on your back, working through layers of jumpers. Not today. They were happy though. They frolicked like puppies; jumped, sprinted, kicked, snorted. Where usually we join in and run about and even whoop, I was bothered about the damage all those hooves were doing to a too-soft turf. Later on the sun came out and they looked great having got past the maniac grass-eating stage of the recently released bovine. Still bitter though. The pregnant stock remain inside and were decidedly displeased. Their maternity field is too wet and soft for their great weight. Maybe in a week they will get their time in the sun.
Great to be back at farmers’ markets for the spring!Yesterday Woburn and for the hour it didn’t rain we did well. After that there was a little dampness in the air and by about 12.30, all but the most die-hard shoppers had retired, either home or to the many warm, snug and dry hostelries in the village; beaten by driving rain and bitter wind.
Amongst market traders, who it’s fair to say are willing to grumble about most things, there was a shared feeling of admiration for the few who stuck it out and bought their carrots, sausages, honey and yes, stems of pussy willow and pea sticks.
We will be at Harpenden next Sunday 24 March and Sunday 28 April, then back at Woburn on Sundays 31 March and 21 April and Sunday 19 May. Do come and say hello. If you’d like us to bring anything for you, please let us know.
A big thank you to regular customer Margaret for her gift of a pound of honey. After a day of cold and damp I took much solace in sour-dough bread from the Celtic Bakery and her lovely honey.