I’ve spent a couple of days recently building a rabbit net around a Bedfordshire veg patch. I was fairly skeptical to begin with, when my client suggested building a rabbit net that would be supported by hazel stakes and decorated with willow. However after some experimentation and discussion, we’ve developed a fence that I’m pretty pleased with.
It looks better than your average rabbit net but will be perfectly functional in keeping those hopping rodents out. The temporary nature of the natural materials we’ve used has been overcome by planting a hornbeam hedge; the plants being alternated either side of the fence. As the hazel and willow fade away over the course of the next four years or so, the hedge will get cracking and thicken up. The theory is that the new branches will assist in keeping the wire in place but just in case this doesn’t occur, it’s hung on plain, high tensile wire. In the mean time, willow woven along the tops of the hazel stakes serves to hold things in place and look pretty attractive.
There’s more to do, hopefully before Christmas. I’ll try to get a picture up here next summer, when the hornbeam comes into leaf.
Rain. It’s feeling very British now; cold but not freezing, gloomy, very wet underfoot. Short days getting shorter. The cattle seem pretty weather resistant but I always feel for them as conditions deteriorate at this time of year. Someone once told me that cattle can cope with very cold conditions as long as they are fed well enough. Their first stomach or rumen is a fermentation vessel that generates heat and keeps them warm. They probably suffer more from heat in the summer than cold in winter and in fact we know cattle people who swear that in winter their animals are healthier outside than in. We used to outwinter our herd; not through choice, rather because we didn’t have a building to put them in. As our herd expanded, it became very clear that although the cattle managed outside well enough, the soil didn’t.
So now we bring them into a new shed. And of course I worry about them in there too. Even though they live under cover, the shed has only three walls so it’s not exactly warm. This winter we plan to keep some of the herd outside for longer than we have done for the last few years, as long as it’s not too wet. They will all be inside in the end though – probably by Christmas.
It can be difficult to be positive about the weather at this time of year, but news from South East Asia this morning, about a monster storm with winds of 200mph, should make us feel very lucky. Hopefully the apparent good forecasting has helped keep people safe.
I managed only two hours cutting hazel yesterday before needing to get back to other things on the farm. Actually it’s still a bit early in teh autumn because the leaves are still on the hazel and that adds time later. But heh; I enjoyed it. I reckon there’s a ratio of about 7:1, processing cut hazel to cutting standing poles, so when I say I’ve been cutting trees down, I mostly mean processing poles – into anything useable and possible firewood. Hopefully the first pile is the biggest.
Yesterday was sparkling, the saw and billhooks very sharp and the woods golden. I’m way out of practice though – back and arms protested bitterly, so a two hour introduction to the season suited me fine.
It would be great to have more time to… well for all sorts of things. Spending time with spouse, children and friends comes top even though I know I’m luckier than most in that regard. Playing music, singing, walking, cooking, cycling, reading. That list could be a long and pitiful one so let’s stop there!A couple of weeks ago I had taken a trip to our small wood to ‘think about areas to cut this coming winter’. Actually, my speech marks, meant to suggest an excuse, aren’t really necessary as I did need to start thinking about such things. But still it felt indulgent to be wandering about looking at coppiced hazel and pondering on area and time.I mentioned recently in another post the small pleasure of watching cattle moving into a new field. Looking at coppiced hazel is another. I imagine many people reacting in a faintly guarded way to such a statement; perhaps with a raised eyebrow and a drawn out “right”. I enjoy looking at the hazel I cut several years ago; its vigorous, skyward growth producing masses of lovely long, straight sticks.
Such moments are snatched, but on this occasion the moment stretched as I was diverted by something new. From a distance I noticed a stool of hazel, cut last winter; its stem tips stripped of leaves. My initial dismay became intrigue. I couldn’t see what had caused the damage. Some moments studying the middle of the plant revealed a collection of leaves, all with beautiful and beautifully camouflaged, yellow, black and green caterpillars arranged rather artfully around their edges.
I assumed they had seen me coming and arranged themselves, after a quick discussion, into this rather splendid pattern, to fool me. If so it almost worked. Perhaps they spend the daylight hours like this and feed at night. Certainly for the ten minutes I spent looking at them, there was no movement whatsoever.
Only a few minutes at a PC later revealed their identity. They almost certainly are hazel or birch sawfly larvae Croesus septentrionalis, not caterpillars at all (more than five pairs of pro-legs behind the three pairs of true legs apparently).
Now I can appreciate their beauty and am fascinated by their curious behaviour but of course now I’m fretting that this time next year the whole wood will be stripped by their grandchildren. Let’s hope the birds find them really tasty.
We hosted a day of basket making last Sunday in our wood, led by Bedford tutor, Ed Burnett. The sun shone, the wood was lovely, all was mellow and some lovely baskets got made. Thanks to Ed for great clarity, patience and good humour! Here are a couple of pictures of the day; we’ll get more on our Facebook page soon.We’ve just received this lovely email:”Dear Jane and Guy,
What a brilliant day we had on Sunday! Ed our tutor was excellent, he ensured everyone had a finished basket and was so patient with us. The organisation of the event was very well done, Jane made us feel very welcome and the cakes and drinks were provided whenever we wanted. The setting where we spent our day was quite magical and we were lucky to have really good weather. I had a thoroughly lovely day and would recommend you to all, I will certainly like to attend future events you hold.
Join our mailing list or contact us to hear about dates for similar course next spring – http://www.wassledine.co.uk/
Turns out I was wrong about the supply of barn swallows and house martins in a post last week. I had thought we’d exhausted this year’s batch and with it the warmer days of summer.After some significant amount of walking about after calves, I managed to get all the herd into our field called ‘Wassledine’. They had been rather keen to get in there and less than impressed by the supply of grass in the two fields they had been occupying for the last week or so. I unwisely told Jane that the electric fence battery was fully charged. She spent ages trying to make it work. Charged overnight I got the thing sorted quickly, but it turned out that there was a short-circuit which had drained the charge and I only spotted that after buying a new one. Ahhh! So now we have a spare.I love moving cattle into a new field. Sounds like a small thing and I suppose it is but their enthusiasm for new turf and enjoyment of access to fresh grass is almost infectious, especially when their desires coincide with yours.
We’ve spent a lot of time out with cattle over the last few days – several visits from the vet forced unplanned hanging about which saps time and relegates other tasks to the ‘later’ list. One positive of all this standing about, holding syringes, persuading unwilling beasts into the crush and whispering what might be calming words into animals’ ears, has been that I’ve seen lots of swallows. Most have been feeding, flying low and determined through the fields. These may be one group circulating, but I suspect rather that they have been a succession of small groups passing on their long journey to southern Africa. Occasionally I’ve felt a twinge of envy at their avoidance of our northern winter, but in reality the next few months will be dangerous ones for them and really I wouldn’t be much use crossing the Sahara under my own steam.
I think we may be approaching some state of readiness for the coming cold and damp. Actually it’s pretty cool and wet this morning but clearly only the very first hint of autumn is upon us so far. Our readiness amounts to having the cattle shed clear, grass cutting pretty much done, hay and straw safely in the dry, and one large load of firewood cut and split. We’ve even arranged for the chimney sweep to visit on Monday.
Cleaning the cattle shed was spurred on by a basket making course to be held in the shed next weekend; you don’t want to learn to make a basket in a shed full of poo. A severe wash of the walls and a light application of straw and it will look a bit more like a venue for some serious crafty stuff. Not however before the vet’s been on Monday and the cattle have passed through the shed; they never leave without passing something. More cleaning to come – not great planning.
Time’s progress is marked in my mind by an odd combination of events, some fixed but most variable - Christmas, Easter, family birthdays, school holidays, the first bluebell flower, cutting hay, harvest, first day working wearing a tee shirt, cutting willow, first swifts…
Swifts appear in May, their arrival heralded by a great deal of screeching and show offy flying about. Their departure is sudden and it’s a day or two before I notice their absence. Their arrival is always a joy and I miss them when they’ve gone. From that point on, sometime in mid-August, the summer is for me just about done. The swallows departed a week or so ago and even passing stragglers are now long gone. Stretching an aching back to escape my chainsaw yesterday, the sky was at one point busy with house martins – perhaps twenty five of these small, agile, sociable birds. I don’t see many around the farm during the summer and I guess these might have been passing by, perhaps from some village in northern Scotland where the additional energy required for a longer migration is compensated by an extra couple of hours of summer daylight. It was good to see them. They may be the last.