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|Posted on July 24, 2019 at 4:55 AM||comments (7792)|
Creating a meadow is not quite as easy as I originally thought! My first attempt is only now, four years later, beginning to look good. Last year’s attempt – having learnt from my earlier mistakes – has been much more successful.
Firstly, we had the right soil – the spoil from the new big pond was heaped up on the little hill in bottom field. Although a few perennial weed seeds blew in, the soil was not the rich top humus of the field laden with grass and other seeds, but it was the poorer, deeper, flinty earth from at least one metre down. I had a little help from my friends to plant it – in fact it made for quite a party as we all danced around treading the seeds in!
We followed the advice from the seed suppliers, Meadowmania, for sowing their Instant Sunshine Meadow Mix and around the edge of the future meadow we sowed a thick border of yellow rattle to try to hold the grass back – or at least weaken it. We sowed it in the last days of August, knowing that this was important to get the yellow rattle established and would get the other seeds off to a good start too. Yellow rattle needs the cold of winter to trigger it into germination.
It was really lovely over the winter – mild here as we are so near the Irish Sea – to see the plants begin to grow and by Easter the bare earth was a lush green.
From then on I couldn’t resist checking the meadow every day to see what new little flower had opened – such a great pleasure in the simplest of things! As the meadow started to flower, different colours dominated – the blue of cornflowers, the yellow of corn marigold, the white of ox-eye daisies, pops of bright orange and red poppies.
It’s been great to see bees and other pollinators on the flowers. The pond where the soil came from has also been a great hit with wildlife – but that’s a whole separate blog!
This field hasn’t been grazed since early last year and we have left some parts unmown, as well as planting some trees (oak, hazel and willow) and other plants (snakeshead fritillary, mallow and angelica). In the unmown areas in this field and elsewhere around the smallholding it has been amazing to see what flora has been lurking unseen. We have spotted: native bluebells, foxgloves, alexanders, cow parsley, red campion, bird’s foot trefoil, vetch, buttercups, dock, thistle, celandine, yarrow, cleavers, ribwort plantain, bindweed, ground ivy, dead nettle, lady’s smock, common sorrel, lesser stitchwort, figwort… and that’s just off the top of my head. So if a meadow is not possible in your garden, perhaps you could just leave an area unmown and see what emerges!
A huge thank you to Monya and Brian for helping put the bulk sack of seeds into small brown paper bags to hand out to people and to all my friends who helped sow the meadow! Happy memories!
|Posted on June 2, 2018 at 3:45 AM||comments (5359)|
We are hoping to offer guests a great glamping experience in our Shepherd’s Huts. But to do so I have had to consider what glamping really means! If you read my last blog, you’ll know that for me a flushing loo ensuite is essential. Going outside on a cold wet night to get to the loo would remind me of inconsorpiant chilly childhood camping experiences in France. Even on a hot dry night in Kenya, going from tent to long drop (or to behind bush) was not my idea of fun – especially if there were grazing hippos around, but that’s another long story involving Cub Scout Camp at Lake Naivasha and my dear friend Janet…
It was when I was working in Kenya (more years ago than I care to count) that I first experienced a tent with a bathroom at the fabulous Island Camp, Lake Baringo. There was even room service - tea brought to you at dawn so you could watch the sun rise over the Rift Valley. Glamping indeed!
Glamping should probably involve all the best bits of camping: being in the countryside, watching the sunrise/sunset, lighting a campfire, cooking over wood, listening to the dawn chorus, lying on a blanket reading a book, making daisy chains, getting away from everyday stuff and having time to notice the bumble bees and butterflies.
Then you need to take away the bits that can be uncomfortable or inconvenient. Replace them with a comfy bed, heat at the flick of a switch, hot and cold running water, proper indoor cooking options in case of bad weather, and you have very glamorous camping experience.
Opinion is divided in this house about canvas. Nick likes the sound of rain on tent. I know what he means, but for me the romance of that wears off after an hour or so, especially if you’ve ever sleepily rolled against the side of a tent so the inner is touching the outer with soggy results. The thought of a solid weatherproof structure (with an insulated roof so the sound of the rain isn’t too loud) which can be dry, warm and comfy even in January seems to be the best business plan.
But this structure mustn’t be “normal”. Glamping is about getting away from the everyday. As a little girl, I loved making dens (actually I still do… and I suspect that element of taking the stuff you really want into that space under the old rhododendron bushes, where you have already secreted some cushions and your comics, is what makes for a perfect getaway. So what “stuff” do we want? A radio for TMS, binoculars so the lookout can raise the alert for Barbarians, something to read, maybe a game to play, a blanket, and, as Pooh would say “a little something” - honey? Or perhaps marshmallows for toasting?
So as Riverside Shepherd Huts prepare the first cosy den for us (see the progress below) I am gathering all those little bits together which I hope will make it a very special place to stay.
|Posted on May 25, 2018 at 9:25 AM||comments (9561)|
I knew there would be trenches – from the electricity pylon at the back on the house to the Shippon via the water supply and via the new Calor gas tank, from the Shippon to Hut 3, from Hut 3 to Hut 1, then down the hill to Hut 2, then further down the hill to the sewage treatment plant…
What never occurred to me (stupidly), was the spoil that would have to be put alongside the trenches. Getting to our store room or the hen house is now an extreme sport. What fun! I have only slipped in once (so far!).
As many of our friends know, my husband loves to hire a little digger and this has been very handy on many occasions since we moved to Cae’r Bryniau: making holes for the polytunnel frame, clearing areas for shed bases, making a planting ditch for a hedge, creating ponds etc. However, having seen the exact and precise work of Gary on his bigger digger, I am not now sure how Nick will react. Will he give up, never hire another digger and just “get a man in”? Or will he have to hire one even more often to hone his skills?
We have planning permission for three Huts, but are only putting two in at this stage. But we thought we’d get the bases ready for all three while we’re at it. Hut 3 will go where the blackthorn thicket was by the parking area. This has meant digging trenches through the bedrock – hard and noisy work! The Calor gas tank is also going by the hen house, so more rock-breaking required.
We’re having Calor gas cookers and water heating in the Huts to take the pressure off the electricity supply, which means we should be able to run all three Huts at maximum capacity on one domestic electricity supply. The complexity of arranging all of this does now make me question our original decision not to go off grid…
So why did we take that decision? Firstly and perhaps most importantly – the loo. Believe me, I looked into compost toilets of many types. It would/should have been the green way to go (if you’ll pardon the pun!). But, the potential downsides (use your imagination) of such a facility in a small Hut would, I believe, have had a detrimental effect on the holiday experience… Of course we could have put the loo in another building/hut nearby…but I am of the mind that an ensuite is not a luxury on holiday and I am sure that many of our future guests would agree. So a water supply was needed. Plus electricity for the sewage treatment plant.
The biggest dilemma was whether to have wood burners in the Huts. The charm and romance of cuddling up in front of a fire was, in the end, outweighed by two things: fire risk and no fire risk. Let me explain. The former is quite obvious once you have heard a few tales of other people’s Shepherd’s Huts guests: e.g. putting too much wood in the burner, getting too hot, taking a log out and putting it on the floor… The latter is the risk of guests being cold and therefore grumpy. As part of our research we stayed in a Shepherd’s Huts in midwinter. It was a beautiful weekend – cold, crisp and absolutely no wind. No draft at all. In order to get the wood burner to draw we had to keep the Hut door open, which made us even colder. Brrrr!
There’s also the problem of needing just a little heat on a chilly summer’s evening, when a fire would be overkill. So we have gone for very unglamorous but supremely functional electric wall heaters. Don’t worry though - there will be enough burning opportunities outside the Huts with all sorts of fire pits and barbecues to keep even the most ardent pyromaniac happy!
Enough witter for now. But let me leave you with a picture to hint at what my next blog will be about:
|Posted on April 26, 2018 at 1:45 PM||comments (2446)|
As the April showers pelt down outside, I sit inside quietly waiting for contractors to arrive to prepare Cae’r Bryniau to receive two Shepherd’s Huts. We hope to have the Huts on site and ready to let by the middle of the summer. The planning for this started a looooooong time ago and the dream even before that, so it is VERY exciting that we are about to start the physical work.
When we were still living in the Vale of Glamorgan and travelling all over Wales at the weekends looking at potential properties to buy, we had a list of about ten things which would make for our perfect place. One of those was the most important thing – the “Ah” factor about the house itself. It had to have character, charm and we would need to fall in love with it instantly. Well, Cae’r Byniau of course met that criterion. It also had the right amount of land, was close to the coast and all sorts of other things were ticked on our list.
There was one little problem… we had been looking for somewhere with a little holiday let on site, or at least an outbuilding which could be converted. That small hitch did not stop us and we decided to put a proper en-suite bathroom in for the upstairs bedroom and run a B&B instead. We’ve had two great summers running the B&B but we are now in a position to expand and realise the holiday let dream.
Shepherd’s Huts are the perfect solution – they have low impact on the land and will be a dark green colour so will not stand out too much. They will enable guests to enjoy being close to nature but with all the creature comforts one needs to wash, be warm and cook inside in a wet Welsh summer. But there will also be a lovely space to sit outside in the sunshine and look across the island to Snowdonia, maybe whilst having a barbecue, or toasting marshmallows over a fire.
We were granted planning permission at the end of last year and since then have been working with Riverside Shepherd’s Huts to design two huts which will be a little different from each other so they have their own characters. It’s been another learning experience for me as once more I have to try to understand new things – electrical loadings, sewage treatment plants, metres of visibility required when turning onto a main road etc. etc. A lot of this is, however, in Nick’s comfort zone and he has patiently tried to explain amps and kilowatts to me when he has returned from work in Colwyn Bay.
The universe has aligned for us and Nick’s temporary part time job (Ha Ha!), which he has done for way over a year now, will be ending next month. Perfect timing as it’ll coincide with the final preparations for launching the Huts. We are not going to set a date yet for letting them as we want to get them installed, kitted out and “trialled” first and give the ground time to recover from the earthworks involved in putting in pipes and cables. As soon as we’re happy we shall launch the lettings! Watch this space - or rather these spaces:
|Posted on September 26, 2017 at 5:15 AM||comments (4601)|
When we decided to keep pigs, it was for only one reason – to produce meat for the B&B. We thought it would be easy. Stick them in the field and after a few months send them to the butcher and bacon will arrive.
How wrong we were. Numbers One and Two, the first of the bunch, were a pair of boar weaners, bought from a smallholder we found through the Oxford Sandy and Black Society website. We had done a smallholding course with Farmer Rob at Cwmcrwth Farm (http://www.cwmcrwthfarm.co.uk/) and learned about handling pigs, tagging, injecting and caring for them, so we thought we were ready.
Getting the piglets was easy, although their squealing as they were loaded into the trailer was unnerving. Feeding the pigs was easy (while they were little) and getting them booked in for slaughter was also easy. Even the Pig Movement paperwork was easy.
Not so the transport to the abattoir. We had not expected that the delivery of our lively, characterful and LARGE pigs would be such a challenge. Challenging, yes. Challenging getting them into the trailer, challenging backing the laden pantechnicon up a slope to the abattoir and even worse, saying goodbye. Without realising it these sources of scrumptious bacon and sausages had stolen our hearts.
Fast forward two years and this last week we have delivered Numbers Five and Six to the butcher. This time a different butcher; Ifan and Iwan at E T Jones, Sons and Daughter (http://etjonesbutchers.co.uk/), who will slaughter rare breeds for breeders’ personal use. One of the most upsetting aspects to the final journey by Numbers One to Four was the transport off Anglesey to the mainland, with a two-hour trip in the trailer. Numbers Five and Six had only been in the trailer for twenty minutes to get them to Cae’r Bryniau and an even shorter trip for their final journey.
The whole experience was as pleasant as it could be and yet, even with the years of experience under the belt, it was one of the hardest things to do. Numbers Five and Six, gilts this time, had superb characters and were a heart-warming sight, running across their field with ears flapping, like wannabe Dumbos, trying to catch the wind. Mind you, as Bill Clinton once said (and I’m not often one to quote him), ‘You can put wings on a pig, but you don't make it an eagle.’
And again it was a hard thing to do. What we remind ourselves, however, is that the pigs have had a fabulous life, living entirely outdoors, with an acre field to themselves. They often stood and shared a moment with the sheep in the next field before resuming their foraging, using their well-designed snouts to turn over the turf, or galloping across to say hello to one of the Labradors.
Now, five days later and after a weekend of dicing, mincing, sausage-stuffing, de-boning and packing, we have a freezer full of the freshest, least food miles, tastiest meat and there’s only a hint of guilt, as without us they may not have lived such a fabulous life and certainly the breed may not survive unless the likes of us continue to look after such wonderful creatures.
We are committed to having pigs, if not every year but regularly. To look after pigs is to be committed, you can’t just be involved, as we thought we would be.
‘The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.’ Martina Navratilova
|Posted on September 25, 2017 at 8:10 AM||comments (11039)|
This morning was one of those glorious sunny, misty ones which just makes your heart sing and also makes you wish you were Keats so you could write it all down mellifluously. It was so stunningly gorgeous that, after I’d fed the animals, I grabbed my camera to attempt to capture the essence of the sunshine on the dew and especially on the glistening cobwebs.
I have regular encounters with cobwebs in the mornings. I know where the usual suspects are: across the shippon door, across the chicken run and everywhere in the polytunnel. So I have developed a sort of Cobweb Tai Chi arm waving movement I perform, normally armed with a bucket of pellets or a hose pipe, to cut through the silken webs with my implements – rather than getting a faceful…It’s a good thing only the cats are watching!
The webs on Gorse Hill this morning were silver filigree bedecked with diamonds – and those diamonds dazzled with all the colours of the rainbow but especially a yellowy gold. My photos have not done justice to the scene, but you can get the idea.
The grass was sparkling too, heavy with droplets of dew, and provided Barbara, our Black Lab, with her favourite drink. She’s a nightmare to walk on mornings like this as she just wants to stop to lap up the dew. All the fences were dripping with jewel-like drops and the low sun showed every contour on the sheep’s horns.
The bright red of the haws and the yellow browns of the sycamore leaves were all enriched by the rising sun and the laden boughs of the apple trees were almost visibly ripening in the intense morning sunlight. So often I find the sun seems to be strongest first thing in the morning, waking the world up and giving us the energy to get going.
On a walk a few days ago (to the fabulous burial chamber, Bryn Celli Ddu), our path was strewn with crab apple windfalls so we all picked up as many as we could and stuffed them into pockets and carried handfuls back to the car. Over the wet weekend we’ve just had, I have been reading recipes to decide how best to use them. I think rosehip and crab apple jelly shall be the thing – so let me arise and go now, go to the bountiful hedgerow…
|Posted on August 29, 2017 at 6:35 AM||comments (1965)|
As I stepped outside this morning, the chill air made me zip my fleece all the way up to my chin. Autumn is icumin in and Nature is showing us how to survive the seasonal challenges by displaying Vitamin C everywhere: blackberries, sloes, rosehips, wild plums and haws in the hedgerows; plums and apples ripe and really ready to eat in the orchard, with pears to follow very soon; blueberries in the fruit cage and a glorious canopy of grapes in the polytunnel.
The only problem is that one can only eat so much fresh fruit a day, so now we need to work out how to best store all of this bounty. Some ways are easy and obvious: plums, grapes and berries freeze well as they are. Nick has also been baking some sweet treats – this weekend it was Monica Galletti’s blackberry and apple bake. Positively yummy!
Fruit compote’s great for breakfast with yoghurt or on porridge, so that’s another quite quick solution. A much more time-consuming task is the making of jellies – but it’s oh so well worth the wait. Bramble jelly has to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Preserving World. A B&B guest asked earlier this year if we sold it by the jar. I just politely said that we didn’t, rather than explaining that it was in fact priceless. The time spent picking the berries, cooking them, letting the gorgeous juice drip drip drip overnight before boiling it fast with sugar, testing for a set, bottling it all up and labelling it, and finally squirrelling it away in the larder – all of this time and process is not for sale. It is a joyful, intense labour of love for perhaps five jars!
The hours spent picking blackberries are some of my favourite of the whole year. It takes complete mindfulness to select the ripest, but not mushy, berries and to avoid getting stung by nettles or scratched by brambles, blackthorn et cetera. The first berries are the best: the biggest, the sweetest, the juiciest. They lead the way at the front of the cluster and demand to be picked, completely irresistible. Many seem to reach my mouth rather than the collecting bowl.
We do get some help with the fruit glut. The hens head straight for the orchard as soon as they are let out in the mornings and any windfalls they don’t deal with are given to the pigs as a little treat with their supper. The hens also help themselves to the blackberries they can reach and, if they realise I am off to pick fruit, I have a little retinue of feathered friends following me. Then there are the Labradors, who will hoover up tiny wild plums en passant… and then, of course, there will be consequences.
Harvesting fruit is a timeless act. Hunter gatherers stopped up the hill from here in Neolithic times. Archaeologists excavating the site of the new school in Llanfaethlu found that this was one of Man’s earliest permanent settlements in Wales. Picking blackberries today, I can’t help but feel connected - not just with our forebears but with the natural rhythm of the World.
|Posted on August 23, 2017 at 7:50 AM||comments (1819)|
August used to be one of the quieter months for me, not now! If you aren’t absolutely on the ball at this time of year, you find that you’ve missed the moment to pick those lovely little courgettes and you now have marrows. Or the perhaps plums, which were rock hard last time you checked, have all shrivelled up or dropped off the tree and are now feeding the slugs.
Slugs. There’s a topic! Are they getting bigger? They certainly seem to be more prolific than ever. My sunflowers were their first victims this year. I sowed trays and trays of them; my main aim was to have them for cutting for the guest rooms, secondly to encourage bees and other insects, thirdly just because I love them.
When all the seeds germinated, I really thought we might have enough to spare to try to eat some of the buds, which apparently are lovely fried with a little butter. Well, I still don’t know if they are or not. After planting my seedlings out, the slugs struck.
Every morning more had gone. Last year I discovered that crushed egg shells don’t work nor does wool (this was in The Slug Dahlia War). Copper rings/tape do – for a while. You have to keep them clean. If the copper gets a film of soil or dust on it, over the slimey so-and so’s go! So this year I reluctantly bought some pellets, certified for organic use. They work ok, but you have to be super vigilant and re-apply more often than I did…
So eventually I was down to about a dozen sunflowers which had somehow managed to form a bud and were far too precious to eat. These survivors are beautiful, but they have to be cut only after careful consideration and displayed in single stem vases, rather than in the abundant Van Gogh style I had envisaged.
It’s not just in The Valley (our kitchen garden) where I battle the goo-oozing gastropods. They have a particular penchant for gathering under the hens’ drinkers. At the moment, it’s often about 6.30am when I give the hens their crumble and let them out of the run. If you know me, you will know this is not my peak time…
Imagine, if you will, a rather sleepy Suzi picking up an empty drinker, taking it to the tap, putting her hand on the red base to unscrew it and getting a handful of slug as well. It generally wakes me up quite quickly. I try not to scream – as it’s not the sound our B&B guests want to be roused by. You’d think I would learn!
|Posted on August 14, 2017 at 8:50 AM||comments (2100)|
Bore da! As the weather is ofnadwy today, I am writing this to avoid doing all those indoor jobs I just love – cleaning, ironing, filing…
After my mentioning pigs’ ears in last week’s post, I was getting myself in a tangle with some chicken wire (trying to protect young plants from Labradors rather than chickens, though!) and said to myself that I was making a real pig’s ear of it. So as I undid it all and started again, I wondered why a pig’s ear is making a mess of something.
My initial thought was that a pig’s ear isn’t messy – sometimes it’s dusty or muddy and, on rare occasions, sunburnt – but not untidy. Perhaps then it refers to an old method, pre- tagging days, of marking animals by making a notch on the edge of their ears? Apparently not! Having failed to find an answer in my beloved Brewer (Dictionary of Phrase and Fable) and a plethora of other dictionaries, I turned reluctantly to the internet.
It seems that no one really KNOWS where the phrase came from. It was first seen in print in the 1950’s but that’s about it. The general guesswork consensus is that it comes from the very old saying “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. Brewer (yes, the good old book worked this time) gives a quote from Peter Pindar (the pseudonym of 18th century satirist Tom Wolcot):
“You cannot make, my lord, I fear,
A velvet purse of a sow’s ear.”
So the thinking goes that if you’ve made a mess of something, you haven’t made a silk or velvet purse, instead you have made a pig’s ear. Apparently. Not sure I am completely happy with this answer, so if you have any better thoughts, please share them!
All a bit too academic, this blog isn’t it? I shall lower the tone dramatically then by talking about pigs and their poo. I want to speak up for these animals who are often referred to as dirty. In my (ok, still quite limited) experience, pigs have fastidious toilet habits. They keep their ark clean and use the perimeter of their enclosure, as far as they can go away from their bed, to do their business.
Pigs love having a MUD bath when it’s hot and we often make a wallow for ours. People have confused this natural way of them screening their skin from the sun with them rolling in poo. The expression “Happy as a pig in s***” is completely erroneous.
But I suppose many of our phrases do come from observing animal behaviour. Our hens have a clear pecking order. Busy bees work hard flying from flower to flower and as for what the cat’s dragged in, don’t ask! However, a dog’s life looks quite good to me!
|Posted on August 8, 2017 at 8:25 AM||comments (2047)|
As Nick has taken on quite a lot of work off the island at the moment, I thought I’d try my hand at updating our blog.
Lovely guests, on Ynys Môn for the Eisteddfod, left yesterday morning and, with no-one booked in for a few days as Nick is away, I have the joy of being able to choose what to do today. Of course, that’s after the regular chores… for those of you who haven’t visited us (yet!) these include…
Morning & afternoon feeding and checking on the animals: 2 pigs, 10 hens, 20 Soay sheep, 3 cats and 2 dogs. This is quite often a delight, as it was this morning - with the sun breaking through the clouds, the birds tweeting and the friendliest sheep coming up to give me a gentle “Bore da!” nudge.
I moved the boy sheep from Bottom to Middle Field which intrigued the pigs who are in Top. They galloped down to the fence to see their new neighbours, or rather to try to see them. They have gloriously floppy ears which hang right over their eyes, giving them natural blinkers. The boy sheep, not having been on this territory for about three weeks, obviously needed to do some male “I’m in charge here!” thing as there was a lot of head butting and prancing around. This seemed to scare the poor piggies who dashed back up to the top of the hill and the safety of their hideout under the gorse.
Pigs at speed. I never realised how fast a pig can run until we kept our own. As we are lucky to have the space (and land that needs clearing), all of our pigs over the last three years have had a small field to call home. They have an ark and a small enclosure around it whence they retire at bedtime or for their afternoon siesta, but otherwise they roam around, rootlin’ and a-tootlin’, digging up tasty roots, finding a tree to scratch their backs on or a nice bit of mud to cool off in. How great for them to have all this freedom! Then I arrive with a bucket of food for them. They don’t generally see me coming (note above) but they know what the metallic click of the gate opening means. It’s their starting pistol.
If there’s nothing between you and the hurtling hogs, it can be a little unnerving. Their braking system is unpredictable and generally involves stopping by means of shoving head into bucket – because surely the bucket will stay still and the person holding it won’t be bulldozed over?
One of last year’s pigs thought nothing of crashing straight through the live electric fence at feeding time, or when she fancied snacking on windfall plums. However, getting her back over a turned off fence was a challenge and we probably should have videoed it for the amusement of our nearest and dearest. Our animal handling skills are improving – really! OK, so the progress is still a bit slow in some areas.
Wow, I have deviated from the daily chores, so at the risk of being a bore, I shall sign off for today and tell you about the delights of B&B laundry another time! Ta ra rwan!