Tag Archives: farming

Thyme for action

Every since we moved in, Jerry and I have been chomping at the bit to get started in the garden. Unable to really tackle much inside the house by ourselves until the bigger works have been done, the jungle surrounding our flint and brick beauty seemed a good place to start, especially as we were beginning to lose the children amongst the foliage.  The first job – tackling knee high grass.  Typically, as soon as we started using the sit on mower we inherited, it proved to be beyond repair and so with 3.5 acres of grass to mow, it was time to bite a rather expensive bullet.  Jerry fell in love with a green and yellow number in two seconds flat when he heard the word ‘mulch’, having only just finished professing undying love for an old Massey Ferguson which belongs to a neighbour.  Honestly, he’ll be coveting their combine next, dear Reader!

First step, turning the paddocks back into….well….paddocks.  Our lovely farming neighbours helped out with that one since we didn’t have any clue as to how and when to bale.  It was a race against time to get it all topped, dried and then baled before the rains came and we were hugely grateful for all their help.  “Bale in June…silver spoon”.  With a rather long list of repair jobs to be done inside and out, we could do with it raining a bit of silver.  Answers on a postcard as to how long you’re supposed to wait until that happens, dear Reader…..

We bid a sad farewell to the giant 100 year old willow tree that was growing into the water course, burrowing under the house and blocking out all the light.  Never easy to make the decision to fell a beautiful tree but the damage it would continue to do if allowed would mean that our poor little house might not stay upright for very long.

Fret not dear Reader, we will be planting more trees elsewhere to honour its passing and the hundreds of logs we now have as a result will keep us warm and cosy for years to come, once seasoned.  All part of the countryside cycle.

Raspberries were found in the undergrowth and quickly gobbled up by Poppy and Primrose, alongside literally baskets full of gooseberries – traces of a long lost fruit cage.

Squirrels moved in shortly after this discovery and stripped all the apples, plums and one lonely pear from the elderly fruit trees.  I asked neighbours what to do about them, thinking they’d have some ancient country wisdom to impart such as burying hair at the base of each trunk which features in a battered countryside almanac I found in an old bookshop.  The resounding answer to dealing the squirrel issue?  An air rifle.  It seems that that may well be next on the list, dear Reader.

Then there was the small matter of a whole field of lavender just outside the back door.  At first glance, the mounds buried under large patches of grass looked altogether done in.  Cue, Margot’s new toy.  A shiny strimmer.  Well Jerry can’t have all the fun, dear Reader!  Two weeks of daily strimming later and the lavender finally started to look more like a lavender field again. I can’t tell you the joy of seeing it all turn varying hues of purple and blue.  I’d better not mention the fact that not a lot else got done in those two weeks….including all the work I was supposed to be doing.  Let’s not dwell on that too much, dear Reader, or the fact that I very nearly strimmed my legs off at several points as the soporific heady scent in the midday sun reduced me to what I am now calling ‘strimmer’s coma’.  I did however perfect a new summer look…..farmer’s arms.  It’s all about the swings and roundabouts, isn’t it, dear Reader?

So with the lavender now well on its way to becoming a slice of Provence in Hampshire, we’ve taken to picnicking in the rows at tea time.  Heavenly hours spent in the sunshine with bees buzzing and butterflies wafting around us.  I am trying not to think about the harvest, dear Reader.  It would be fair to say that so far lavender bags will be featuring heavily under the Christmas tree this year.

A timely day out from the slog of the garden work at the launch of the Hampshire Food Festival with Hampshire Fare saw Jerry and I green with envy at the marvellous kitchen garden at Chewton Glen.

With a month of events to enjoy, producers and suppliers to go and visit and tours of vineyards, breweries orchards and farms on the menu, make sure if you’re in Hampshire that you get out and about to enjoy our county’s fabulous bounty.  With canapés with Masterchef’s Jane Devonshire and Juanita Hennessey on offer as well as Gin masterclasses at Berry Bros & Rudd or four courses in a Riverside Yurt, there’s something for everyone.  Still to come and top of my list?

Vineyards of Hampshire 5th Annual Wine Festival

Pop up Picture House with Rick Stein

Cherry Orchard Tours and Cherry Market at Blackmoor Estate

‘Sausage and Mash’ at  Parsonage Farm Charcuterie  and  

Hampshire Summer Fizz at Gilbert White

With the last two weeks of the Festival left, get your diary out and book away, dear Reader!

Inspired by Chewton Glen’s marvellous veg patch, I now have even grander plans for our own.  I seem to have spent half my life recently trawling through Pinterest thinking of ways to create a pretty allotment patch for our new smallholding life!  You can imagine Jerry rolling his eyes already, can’t you dear Reader? Grand schemes afoot, the hens are doing a sterling job of preparing the land for us already.   Scratching up moss and laying the foundations of good soil with their manure.  I would like to say that we’ll be digging the soil pretty soon, ready for planting up with some autumn and winter vegetable seedlings but Jerry tells me that this is wishful thinking.  To be honest, getting the earth moving will be a much needed distraction in the next month as the scaffolding goes up and roof repair work begins.  Jerry and I won’t have any hair or nails left at this rate.  The last few days of monsoon weather have had us reaching for the buckets and umbrellas inside again.

To keep up with our five-a-day habit in the meantime, a lovely local supplier Brimfields have been impressing us with stunning veg boxes full to bursting with deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a plentiful box for £12 had me whooping with delight when Ross from Brimfields delivered it to our front door for the first time – seasonal, fresh, local and the perfect amount for the week without the need to top up as I’ve often found with veg box schemes in the past.  I’m not sure Ross was quite as delighted to encounter a Margot with no makeup and a towel on my head having just stepped out of the shower though!

Brimfields deliver in and around Winchester but if you’re not on their delivery route, then pop down to their Veg Shed in Kings Worthy, at the King Charles pub just off Lovedon Lane, to stock up.

They are open two days a week – Wednesdays from 08:30 until 12:30pm and Fridays from the same times.  There you’ll find fresh local free-range eggs, fresh bread as well as lots of lovely local produce like Hill Farm Apple Juice and The Tomato Company passata, ketchup, chutney, relish and juice, alongside local jam, honey and cakes.  Well worth a visit.

Summer holidays in full swing, I shall have Poppy and Primrose joining the ground force team at HQ – that’s if I can tear them away from their latest den building expedition.  It looks like I shall have to bribe them with a few more of these if I’m ever going to get them to help me pick the lavender, dear Reader.

As for my motivation?  I’m already plotting something altogether more Margot, dear Reader….. Anyone for lavender gin?

An Easter delivery

Easter chickWith spring flowers, chicks and eggs both chocolate and hen, Easter is certainly hot on our heels.  A little rabbit even crept onto the table too (thanks to Pol Roger Champagne for inviting me to share a dinner party favourite), leaving Poppy completely appalled that Mummy and Daddy might have kidnapped the Easter bunny and eaten him!

rabbit

However, Easter just wouldn’t be Easter dear Reader, without lambs.  Bouncing little bundles of spring joy.  In fact, Poppy, Primrose and I have been reminiscing about our orphans from last year and wondering about a few more.  Since I don’t have any grazing of my own to speak of, finding willing landowners happy to part with a field for six months is pretty tricky.

Lambing2015-2 So, missing my three bleating little ones, I decided to offer my very inexperienced services to a lovely local (very patient) shepherdess whose flock was about to triple within a matter of weeks.  The maternity wing was already full of triplets when I got there and in the biting wind and driving rain, the shed was by far the best place for lambs, ewes (and Margot) to shelter.  Keen to put me to work, the shepherdess had me learning the ropes in no time – docking tails, castration (cross your legs – it’s all about the rubber bands)….checking feet and monitoring newborns.   Even the polytunnel had been cleared out to be used as a makeshift intensive care unit for difficult births and struggling lambs.  Such a lot to get done before the next birth and all that while you’re on red alert for any ewes who look as though they might be going into labour.  Scanning and dating I learn, is no real guarantee of just when lambs might make an appearance and the shepherdess has her trusty notebook with her at all times, referring to notes on when each ewe is due and how many babies.  Some are first timers, others are old hands at lambing and will be giving birth for the third or fourth time.  First timers are always more of a worry, the shepherdess tells me.

Lambing2015-1Lambing is a curious thing….much like giving birth to human babies.  A lot of waiting around, a bit of action, a lot more waiting around and then everything happening in a matter of ten minutes.  Reading my sheep husbandry handbook was no real preparation for witnessing my first live lamby birth – it was amazing.  Even more wonderful to be there ready to assist when one lamb got a bit stuck in the process and the ewe had to be helped out.  Oooh, dear Reader, this was truly Lambing Live and I was standing by like James Herriot in the middle of a field, with a bucket full of delivery essentials and a shepherdess sporting a long plastic glove.  I think that the shepherdess was rendered quite dumbstruck when I got out my phone and starting taking pictures…..  Oh the shame, dear Reader, I am a complete total farming amateur!  Too good to miss recording it for the children to see later that day though!

Lambing2015-4

When the second lamb popped out unaided fifteen minutes later, all hands were on deck to get the newborns and ewe into the trailer before the wet lambs became too cold up at the top of the field.  All this care, love and attention for something that will eventually reach the table.  I am in awe of the work all our farmers do and how much effort goes into bringing meat to consumers.

Lambing2015-3

Keen to get more practice in, I popped over with Poppy and Primrose to see how the rest of the ewes were getting on a day or so later.  Tons more naughty scampering triplets and happy ewes!  Anyone who thinks that sheep don’t have much personality couldn’t be more wrong.  You can see just what kind of mothers they are by watching them for five minutes.  Poppy and Primrose spent an hour running up and down the fields with lambs following and gambolling, their mothers watching on or trotting behind.  Definitely what Easter in the countryside is all about!

Much to the girls’ delight, there was even a spot of newborn cuddles to be had.  One of the shepherdess’ more troublesome ewes had given birth to her triplets just the night before our visit and one of her babies had really really struggled to perk up following the trauma of birth.  Dubbed Minnie, we found her in the kitchen in a cardboard box.  A tiny little thing and destined to be fed by bottle for the moment as she hasn’t had much strength and is considerably smaller than her siblings.  Snuggling up to a newborn lamb has to be the highlight for Poppy and Primrose this Easter – much better than a chocolate egg any day they told Jerry and I afterwards in the car on the way home!

Minnie

Looks like little Minnie may well be needing a foster home too………….the prospect sent me scuttling to the garage to get the huge bottle of Milton and lamby bottles out again.  Despite  Jerry rolling his eyes, there may well be a cardboard box with a lamb in it in the kitchen very soon!  Well how could we resist such a darling little face, dear Reader?!!!  Happy Easter!

 

Pass the pigs

Sam Bomb SaphhLately it seems that I have been all over the place meeting, talking to and tasting some truly beautiful produce all made in Hampshire.  Pop up supper clubs with the fabulous and utterly delicious food of Savage Kitchen, tasting Hampshire made Twisted Nose gin from Winchester Distillery (local watercress and lavender feature heavily in this little number), standing in the loo queue with some serious international journos of luxury mags at the new Bombay Sapphire Distillery launch at Laverstoke Mill, incognito visits to farm shops as a judge for Hampshire Life Food and Drink awards…..honestly I’ve been starting to think I should be pinching myself a bit harder to check that I haven’t metamorphosed into Xanthe Clay.  Perhaps not quite yet?!  Her job is safe….for now.

Jumping in the Lanny with Jerry and the girls on a misty Saturday morning and trekking across country a bit to the Bourne Valley, I felt like I was one of the producer’s on Rick Stein’s Food Heroes programme.  The food heroes in question: John and Sarah Mills from Parsonage FarmContinue reading

Summer of countryside love

MudefordProfuse apologies, my dear Reader, for my epic summer silence.  It seems an age since I was last tip tapping away a little note to you and I can only blame it on lots of work and plenty of lovely things happening at Margot and Jerry HQ, giving me not time at all to resume my position at the writing desk.  With Primrose and Poppy at home creating mayhem for almost 8 WEEKS of summer horror, I mean holiday, I haven’t had a moment to even hear myself think either!

Days have been filled with exploring our patch of Hampshire, trips to secluded sandy spots, sampling a lot of local goodies (wine, beer, gin…..) so when we finally headed off for our staycation and annual trip to Tom and Barbara’s shire farmstead, we couldn’t be too downhearted when it weed it down with rain.  Lots of time at home too – the spare room has had its bedding stripped more times than a boutique B&B of late!  As anyone who knows us well knows, we’re always more than happy to have friends to stay – any excuse for a good gossip over a large glass of something! Continue reading

Raising orphans

No82 having a good nosh - our only ewe.

No82 having a good nosh – our only ewe.  She has a lovely tattoo of 82 on her side, hence the natty name!

Dear Reader, I do apologise for the break in transmission.  I’ll be honest, I have been putting off writing this post as the past two weeks have had some serious ups and bottomless downs unfortunately and my birthday in between.  We are all exhausted here at Margot and Jerry HQ.  Raising orphan lambs is no picnic.  Not only is there relentless bottle feeding and checking to be done but lambs (as I was told by so many farmers) have a desire to snuff it lurking around every corner and ours have certainly tried to prove that fact.

When we started out, we had a tiny scrawny black faced lamb (our Suffolk cross dubbed Blackie….I know original isn’t it?!) that was struggling to bottle feed and it took us a week or so to get him sucking as well as to cure his awful bowels.  Poor chap was in a dreadful state but perked up with round the clock care and gentle persuasion.  He now follows us all like a little puppy and is most put out when you don’t stop to pat him on your way to filling up the feed trough. Continue reading

Mad as a March hare

Spring in the air

Spring in the air

March, March, March.  The months seem to be flying by.  Spring is in the air and I felt on top of the world as my winter worn body took in a massive dose of vitamin D last week.  I strolled by the river full of the joys of….well….spring….obviously!  I  planned all the things I was going to do now that winter seemed to be on its way out.  Everyone else seemed to be busy making plans too.  Barbara was finally getting her chickens, Minty was almost at the end of her pregnancy and counting down the weeks, Primrose finally had her place at school confirmed and there had been a flurry of news on weddings, births and new jobs.  The sale of the cottage was moving forward and structural surveys were carried out as we frantically prepared necessary paperwork.  On a blissfully sunny morning, even the future appeared to  to have a ‘spring’ in its step too.

Thoughts of spring bring to mind newborn lambs bouncing in fields, garish daffodils peeking up from the soil, the scent of hyacinths, nature opening its sleepy eyes once more after a long hibernation and the ability to leave the house in just a jacket without need for scarf, hat, gloves or in Poppy’s case, a Michelin man snowsuit which restricts movement but comes in handy when one falls over!   Possibly my favourite(and Jerry’s least) part of spring is the slight (!) craziness it brings out in me – the saying “Mad as a March Hare” doesn’t exist for nothing, dear Reader!

Primrose's Bo Peep outfit would be ideal...not sure I could squeeze into it though

Primrose’s Bo Peep outfit would be ideal…although might be tricky to squeeze into it

Sneaking a brief moment of peace and armed with a delicious glass of red, I settled down to read the latest copy of Country Living.  “Fancy yourself as a farmer?” read an article on the magazine’s Keep Britain Farming campaign.  Maybe this was the job opportunity I had been looking for?  I pictured myself milking cows, shearing sheep and tending to the herd on my own mini farm in a shepherdess’ outfit a la Marie Antoinette!  What could be more Good Life than that?  I have always quite liked the idea of being a farmer and growing my own meat.  Glued to the television watching Channel 4’s First Time Farmers a few weeks ago, I had scoffed “How difficult can it be to look after a few cows?”  Thus speaks the ultimate townie!  The answer arrived with lightning bolt speed and was blatantly obvious as I watched with the wide-eyed realisation that REAL farming was jolly hard work.  I have saluted farmers ever since for their endless daily grind.  Not at all like the River Cottage life I had envisaged.  I certainly wasn’t too sure about putting my hand up a cow’s bottom or giving a newborn lamb mouth to mouth, not to mention collecting dead animals from the pasture at dawn.  Where was the cute and cuddly side of farming?  Delicate little ducklings, reviving lambs by the AGA, bucolic scenes of harvesting and listening to The Wurzles (all together now “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester…).  Hugh FW had made it all look like a dream!  Thank goodness, Jerry arrived home from work before red wine masked any sensible decision making skills and I had had a chance to apply!  Dear Reader, that was my first March hare moment of the week!

Leaving alternative career paths behind me, I decided to steep myself in some further countryside lore instead.  Despite what BBC Weather tells us, spring is not official until the Vernal Equinox.  Marking the halfway point between winter and summer, the equinox occurs on 20th March this year.  Dear Reader, one might wonder what on earth this has to do with hares.  Indeed!  Well, hares and spring have long been entertwined, since pagan times.  The hare was said to be a symbol for regeneration, femininity and love and sightings of them heralded the return of spring.  Ostara (Eostre), the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility was often said to take the form of a hare or would be pictured alongside a white hare.  Wonderfully mythical creatures, there are even tales of brokenhearted girls turning into hares and roaming the countryside haunting their unfaithful lovers.  The phrase ‘Mad as a March hare’ is believed to have arisen as a result of how hares behave during the mating season.  Solitary animals, they come together in the spring, displaying rather aggressive mating rituals as females ‘box’ away the unwanted attentions of a male they have no interest in breeding with.  Who would have thought that those fluffy long-eared cousins of the bunny would be the feisty females of the animal world?  Thankfully for Jerry, I can’t claim to be as feisty as a doe!  I am more of a Mad Hatter’s tea party version of a March hare – a ‘say it like it is’ sort of feisty!

Photo: The Complete Ilustrated Works of Lewis Carroll, Chancellor Press

Photo: The Complete Ilustrated Works of Lewis Carroll, Chancellor Press

“Have some wine”, the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.  Alice looked all around the table but there was nothing on it but tea.  “I don’t see any wine”, she remarked. “There isn’t any”, said the March Hare.  “Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it”, said Alice, angrily.  “It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited”, said the March Hare. 

(Chapter VII, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

Pouring myself another glass of wine (well all the best plans, spring or otherwise, have been made with a tipple or two), I focused on my second (and BEST) ‘hare’brained idea of the week, dear Reader.  I think that Jerry, Primrose, Poppy and I might be even more excited about this one than we are about leaving London and moving to the countryside.  Well, how could I complete no.11 on this list (11. Walk MY OWN dog) without one of these.

Well, how could one resist such a sweet face, dear Reader?!

How could one resist such a sweet face, dear Reader?!