Monday 1 March, 2004
Well, another glorious but cold weekend passes, and we're a little closer to being ready for our new pigs which we collect in 3 weeks. On Saturday we finished the fencing, stapling sheep netting to the rails, and on Sunday gave the pig ark and the old chook ark a coat of water-based preservative. They'll get at least one more coat in the next few weeks, and if we have the time and will another before the autumn.
Although the ground remains too hard to sow direct, meaning the parsnips still aren't in, the aubergines (Long Purple) were sown yesterday in soil blocks in the greenhouse. This morning the temperature in the greenhouse was -3.5 degrees C, the lowest it's been this winter, so everythign tender is on a heated pad, which doesn't really effect the ambient temperature but does provide sufficient bottom heat to prevent damage to seedlings.
Friday 5 March, 2004
Today R and I both had the afternoon off work - the joys of flexi-time. We might have spent it pottering around the house, doing odd jobs in the garden or maybe just putting our feet up. But we didn't. Instead we spent 2 hours picking litter from along the road leading to our cottage, which passes through an industrial estate, with our Helping Hands. We filled 13 large black bin bags with the varied detritus of irresponsible litter-bugs.
Saturday 6 March, 2004
No, not a Saturday night out in Alloa, but confirmation that next Saturday we'll be tootling down to Dumfries to collect our 3 tamworth weaners. They are all boars, and have been described bythe breeder as a huge fat one, a normal one and a wee skinny one (who is skinny because he spends feeding time sucking the ears of the other pigs). Sounds like they will fit in with our other disfunctional animals just fine.
The gender isn't terribly important since they won't be reaching sexual maturity. We had 2 gilts (females) last year, so it will be nice to bolster the number of males around the place this year - what with a dozen hens, 2 border collie bitches, a female cat and a wife and daughter us men (myself and 2 of the cats) need all the support we can get...
Sunday 7 March, 2004
Today we had two departures from the smallholding. Sadly the first was one of our new hens. We discovered a trail of feathers this morning leading from our shed along the hedge, under which we found the dead hen. It was most likely a fox, and we think the hen failed to roost with the other hens for some reason, and when we shut them in at about 9pm she was probably under the shed, where the hens have established dust baths. We stopped counting the hens in their ark at night once the new arrivals had settled in - we'll now start doing so again. This is the 2nd hen we've lost this year to a suspected fox, and we need to be more vigilant to prevent it happening again.
Sunday 7 March, 2004
Lots of veggies sown this weekend, and preparations made for future crops.
- Parsnip, Tender and True
- Beetroot, Libero RZ
- Tomato, Harbinger
- Tomato Super Sweet 100
- Pepper, Jumbo
- Pepper, Sweet Nardello
- Pepper, Hungarian Hot Wax
- Lettuce, Saladini
- Spring Onion, White Lisbon
One of my challenges this growing season was to keep better records of sowings, soil inputs and harvests. Although summaries will be posted here I'm also going to be recording the detail in a database which the saddest reader will be available to view. It will be extremely useful to be able to look back at what varieties did best where and with what inputs and techniques - otherwise I'm liable to make the same mistakes every year.
Sunday 7 March, 2004
I've just finished reading Amy Stewart's excellent 'The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms'. It's not as specialist a read as it might sound from the title - it's wonderfully readable and the worms themselves so fascinating that everyone should enjoy it.
Saturday 13 March, 2004
Our past experiences with utility companies have not been positive. When we bought our cottages the electricity company were adamant that we were in possession of a spare meter, even though we had stood and watched one of their employees remove it just a week before. At one stage they suggested that the only way to end the dispute would be for us to report the meter stolen! They must have discovered their error eventually because everything went quiet after about a year.
The gas company were no better. They wouldn't accept that they were supplying us with gas, despite the fact that one of their work crews had been out the week before to re-route the supply into our front hall, and our heating and cooker were defeinitely burning something. They didn't charge us for gas for over a year, despite repeated attempts by us to get them to do so.
Sunday 14 March, 2004
Here are our new arrivals, the 3 Tamworth boar weaners we picked up from Dumfries today. Everything went very smoothly, and we had a great time at the breeder's farm meeting their animals, including some gorgeous Golden Guernsey goats, Ryland sheep and of course Tamworth pigs.
Our pigs have settled in already - after a quick scout around the perimeter of their new home looking for potential weaknesses in our defences they set to rooting and grazing, met the dogs, had a feed and eventually found their way into their ark shortly after dusk.
Sunday 14 March, 2004
I'm pleased to report that Homer's journey back into the family is continuing. He now makes his way around the house at night, once the dogs have gone to bed. Although he's still nervous around people, he's much more relaxed than he was.
A couple of nights ago, we were sitting in the living room when we heard thumping in the hall. On investigation, this turned out to be Homer chasing his tail and leaping around on the rug. This was the first time we'd seen him play and I have to confess I had a bit of a lump in my throat.
Monday 15 March, 2004
It's nice to have pigs around the place again. Apart from the satisfaction of watching them turn over a large piece of ground where we can grow veg next year, saving me a sore back and blistered hands, they are such friendly, lively animals. This lot, being a good bit older than our two last year, and used to dogs thanks to Holly, already follow us around inquisitively and love a good scratch.
Now we've got them we need to start thinking about the when, how, and who of their eventual departure. That means seeking out those potential customers who last year expressed an interest in buying pork from us but for whatever reason missed out, and offering more to those who did buy last year (but who might still have half a freezer full!), and giving the butcher an early warning of the likely date for the carcasses to arrive.
Saturday 20 March, 2004
The inclement weather has kept us out of the garden today, with high, cold winds and torrential rain limiting activity to the greenhouse. The pigs have also taken to shelter, spending most of the day (apart from feeding time of course) in their ark. We've big plans for tomorrow though, weather permitting - the planting of several hundred onion sets, sowing of various herbs in the greenhouse and the blocking on of some tomato and pepper seedlings from 3/4 inch to 2 inch soil blocks.
Unfortunately my seed potatoes are struggling badly in the shed. In previous years they have been chitted in the house, but this year the redecoration of the front hall made me seek an alternative location. I think it's just been too cold at times in the unheated, uninsulated shed, and many of the shoots from the spuds have withered, and other tubers show signs of rot. I'll move them indoors tomorrow in the hope of rescuing some of them, but I'm resigned to buying more seed - very frustrating but I've learned an important lesson - ignore the cosmetic effect of chitting spuds indoors!
Sunday 21 March, 2004
I have been seeking an activity to undertake with Smokey. He's too big to show, even if I wanted to, and neither of us are that keen on jumping. After some thought, and a recommendation from our vet, we are planning to start long distance or endurance riding. Our vet described this as "hacking with style".
The sport is run in Scotland by the Scottish Endurance Riding Club (SERC), through a number of branches. We're kind of in the area of Glasgow, Lothians and Tayside, but I think we'll go for Tayside.
Tuesday 23 March, 2004
Cassius, number 1 cat, has taken to bringing us presents of dead rabbits. They seem to be his favourite prey at the moment. On Sunday, we noticed one of the dogs sniffing round our bed - we thought Cass was under it, but further investigation revealed the very small remains of a rabbit. Today (Tuesday), he appeared on the doorstep dragging a fresh kill. Shut out, he devoured it on the patio, with an audience of half a dozen hens.
The good side is that I've stopped worrrying about him not eating his cat food. But it's certainly nature red in tooth and claw...
Tuesday 23 March, 2004
On Sunday afternoon I planted about 400 Sturon onion sets in the big bed beside our garage. Since onions form a part of just about every meal we eat these will keep us going for about 10 months after harvest.
One of the downsides of keeping hens is the need to protect everything in the garden which can be damaged by the hens pecking, and scratching. With many vegetables, especially those sown direct or planted as small sets or tubers, that means netting. You can probably see where this is going.
Sunday 28 March, 2004
It was my birthday on Friday, and my wife treated me to a surprise night away in Edinburgh. We stayed at the fantastic Scotsman Hotel on North Bridge - it is without doubt the best hotel we've ever experienced. Everything was spot on - the staff were genuinely friendly and very efficient, the room a study in comfort and the food exceptional. The hotel was opened 3 years ago, and is located in the beautiful building which previously housed the Scotsman newspaper, and is quintessentially Scottish.
Wednesday 31 March, 2004
The pigs are doing just fine. They sleep a lot more than last year's, but make up for lost time when they're awake. The pen is already well-turned, and by July should be pretty clean, ready for sowing a green manure and maybe some spuds.
The main worry when planting potatoes on newly cultivated grassland is usually wire worm, but we should be okay - the hens, canny creatures that they are - have taken to following the ploughs that are the pigs, snatching any beasties that are unfortunate enough to be exposed by those powerful snouts.