Spring, it seems, may finally be here.
It’s been a long, hard winter. I have spoken of winter at length (thank you for your patience), but now my thoughts and my hands turn to warmer work.
We are still battered by the occasional gale, and in fact a great many trees in the area have succumbed to the winds in recent days, and the local rivers have burst their banks, turning fields into lakes. We have managed to avoid the worst of this, have not (yet!) lost any trees, and the chickens now seem used to the occasional bath (although they still complain). We have had no repeat of the now legendary Flood of 2016, and my daily clearing of the ditches and waterways around us seems to be paying off, paying back for the aches it causes.
The fruit trees we planted are all waking up, little buds popping out along their branches, drinking in the March sunshine. Daffodils are beginning to flower, tulips are pushing up through the earth, dandelions and daisies and bumblebees and butterflies, new life and hope.
We are visited by bluetits, goldfinches, robins, and the occasional nuthatch. We have spotted lapwings and storks stopping by for a rest before continuing their migrations. The buzzards circle in pairs, calling to each other and sending the chickens flapping for cover, tumbling over each other and trying to hide under me.
The cat (Mrs. Badcrumble) was taken to the vet to be spayed, and is, as I type this, sleeping off the effects of anaesthesia, waking now and then to glare at me accusingly and lick her stitches, and I feel like a monster. The feral cat population in the area is quite large enough already.
We have started a lot of our vegetables now, and every windowsill in the house plays host to trays and trays of seedlings. We are growing things we did not attempt in the UK, such as sweet peppers and aubergines, in the hope that the hotter, longer summer will produce good specimens, and ML has planted over 40 tomato plants, which we hope will yield well, so we can preserve enough by drying and canning to see us through next winter.
We have worked hard at improving the clay soil that we have, adding topsoil and well-rotted horse manure, and the pile of kitchen compost grows ever bigger. I hope to get to a point where the soil is much improved and we can leave it alone as much as possible. Soil structure is paramount, and any digging or tillage can ruin this, as well as causing loss of nutrients. We are experimenting with permaculture and no-dig methods, and are planning a small forest garden next year, and we hope for a good harvest. I have been attempting to coypu-proof the veg garden with chicken wire and rocks, and I will be glad if they and we can be good neighbours.
There is a chap that ML’s dad used to work with who keeps bees, and he has promised us a swarm (he does not prevent his from doing so), which means we will have bees already adapted to the local environment. They will swarm sometime in May, all being well, so we are preparing the hive with a final coat of linseed oil, we will rub grass on the inside to make it smell less of human, we will put some lines of wax on the top-bars to encourage comb production, and we will be stupidly excited when they arrive.
The variety of wildlife around the farm in astounding. When I foraged in the UK I would trek from forest to field in search of spots for wild spring greens. I had good spots for many edibles, but they were often miles apart. But here, just on our own land, I have found wild mint, wintercress (bitter!), chickweed, nettle, dead-nettle, hogweed, crow-garlic, dandelion, hairy bittercress (neither bitter nor hairy, confusingly), common sorrel, and comfrey (with which we shall make a foul-smelling tea for the garden). A bowl of some of these plants dressed in some good oil and vinegar is a welcome crunch, and a taste of things to come. I have found a spot for wild garlic (I would searched far and wide for this as it is essential, luckily I have found a good patch some half a mile away, in the same forest that provided such a glut of wild mushrooms last year), and when we visited today to pick a little for dinner, we spotted a pair of Alpine newts. This bodes well, I have decided. I plan on making enough wild garlic pesto to keep us in easy suppers for the rest of the year, as well as lacto-fermenting some for kimchi or just on its own, a salty crunchy pungent hit of microbiome health food.
The birds sing, the signs are good, and if the coypu eat all my tomatoes it will be roast coypu and wild kimchi for dinner, with a glass of nettle beer.Follow @lidson