Jonathan & Denise: This looks like it could be a Christmas to remember!
Jonathan: After two days of dreich keeping us indoors, we’ve been making the most of better weather today by working (mostly) outdoors.
Pity our poor chickens, who spent their first full day confined indoors for 30 days: three of the four UK national governments (all except N. Ireland) have issued orders requiring all poultry owners to prevent their birds having contact with wild birds. There’s an avian flu outbreak in continental Europe, and the order is intended to reduce the risk of it spreading in the UK. This is the first time this has been done, UK-wide, and our first experience of such a lock-down.
This morning Denise and I went over to Eight Askernish (which is about eight miles north). Denise finished off the cleaning up after the carpet-fitting and re-decorating, getting the house ready for for guests at Christmas and New Year. I was outdoors, fixing a leaking gutter, wire-brushing rust off the clothes line poles – to re-paint another day. I tidied round the garden too … and spotted fresh clumps of deer-poo! I called Denise out to take a look together: deer-poo is quite distinctive, rather like sheep poo, but the pellets are elongated – even pointed. When I come back to paint the poles, I’ll have to set up the wildlife camera – perhaps I’ll have a bit of luck and actually capture wildlife on aforesaid wildlife camera. It’s good to be working together like this, putting things in order, and planning future work together.
After lunch, back at An Gàrradh Mòr, we were both out in the garden. Denise was pulling weeds to take to the hen house so that the girls still get their ‘greens and we still get yolks that are deep yellow. I too had a wheelbarrow and fork, but took it out through the garden gate, across the road, and down the bank onto the beach. Last night, out for a walk with Tilly before bedtime, the storm was abating, the skies clearing, and Tilly and I had stood – me in my wellies – at the line where the surf turned back on itself, the sea sparkling with moonlight. The sands, too, glistened in the silvery light, clumps of shadow revealing great heaps of seaweed thrown up by the sea. It was that seaweed that’s been taking me down to the beach this afternoon. Three barrow-loads taken home to feed the soil of our garden – or rather, today, the soil of a greenhouse, feeding it for next year’s tomato plants. Seaweed Season has arrived! Gathering seaweed will now continue – every day if weather permits – bad weather to cast up the seaweed, better weather to collect it! – until Easter.
And last, but not least, Denise and I moved the new batch of seven Welsumer chicks into another greenhouse, where – as we do every winter – we set up a small wooden hen house used for rearing chicks – now no longer needing the heat lamp – until they’re ready to join the main flocks. The chicks have now finally joined Lucky, who made the same move three weeks or so ago. Poor boy, he’s been getting more and more distressed by his isolation: it’ll take a few days for things to settle down, but they’ll get on just fine!
Jonathan: Warm, Sunny, September! Today, we’ve been amongst the rows and roses, harvesting spuds and hips.
The unseasonal Severe Gale over this past weekend has left the haulms of our potatoes battered, broken and blackened, but the crop beneath was already suffering distress after a cold dry spring and a warm and damp summer. The sunshine and lack of rain from late March to early July was much appreciated by our self-catering guests (not least Jacalyn and Mary over from California!), but the sandy soil of the walled garden dried out to too great a depth for the potatoes to thrive, and at least half of the seed potatoes simply withered in the ground. Long gaps in the rows of potato haulms gave us early warning that we won’t have enough potatoes to last us even through the winter, let alone to next spring.
Then, in early July, Mother Nature abruptly flipped the weather-mode switch to Cloudy Warm and Wet – perfect conditions for potato blight! So, even before the storm this past weekend, we were already reconciled to the prospect of having to buy potatoes from the Co-Op! To save ourselves from that humiliation as long as possible, and taking advantage of the warm sunshine forecast for all of today, we set about digging up all the main crop potatoes – Charlotte and Sarpo Mira, spreading them out on the warm paving at the south-facing front of the house. This evening, before the dew starts to settle, we’ll transfer them to the storage boxes: that’ll not take long – I doubt we’ll need more than three of the seven boxes we filled last year!
Whilst I’m not for a moment suggesting that plentitude of rose hips can in any way compensate in any practical way for a deficiency of potatoes, there is at least a certain pleasing symmetry in the reverse of fortunes between the two. Last year there were so few hips (and even they were small and hard) that we didn’t bother picking any – we simply left them for the wild birds. This year, the dry spring encouraged an early and abundant display of flowers – and it was just as the first fruits from these flowers started to appear that the weather turned warmer and wetter – resulting in the plants bowing down with the weight of big juicy hips. The sunshine and showers of late summer and early September prompted a second flourish of colour and scent – and a final flush of the glorious red rosehips! What will we use them for? Perhaps a few bottles of syrup, but mostly for Rosehip Jelly, one of our great favourites! The syrup is clear, sweet and simple; but the jelly is made cloudy, with a flavour as rich and complex as a single-malt whisky – a perfect companion with hogget lamb, goose, turkey – or a really good mature English cheese. But first we’ve got to get the hips picked – before the birds peck away all the best of them!
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
John Keats: To Autumn, September 1819
Jonathan: A lovely late summer morning – and a strong desire to linger over the routine duties, to revel in the familiarity. Last to be attended to in Home Park, down by the shore, are the rams and the geese, who form a combined scrum around the line of feed I lay down. The rams push and shove from either side of the line, whilst the geese dive in between their legs to grab what they can! Some of the bolder chickens stand at either end of the line, but they’re not there as referees, they’re picking up the small fragments of feed where they’re least likely to get trampled, kicked or butted! As the food disappears, the tension eases and the animals reform into flocks and start to move away. I sit awhile, on the grass, making the most of the moment. Rhubarb (one of this year’s bottle-fed lambs) leans against me, resting his chin on my shoulder and his cheek against my face, urging me to rub behind his ears and talk to him. There’s Flotsam and Jetsam too, the two goslings hatched out at home and who have known Rhubarb since they were all of them tiny. Flotsam – who we think is a girl, settles down close by my right side, letting me stroke her. Jetsam is behind me investigating the details of my boiler suit – the collar, waistband, and the pockets. These three familiars are too close to photograph, so here’s a few of the others.