43 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

Finally a change is afoot. The expanse of undifferentiated, cloudless days has been replaced with interesting skies, deeper shadows, showers. You can enjoy the privilege which is participation in dawn and dusk again.

Although wet-wellied winter me would strongly disagree, I feel a lot more at home with a diverse climate – only a scary fundamentalist could appreciate a simplistic relationship with the sun in the long term.

Further existential order is imposed by the chaos of the kids: it’s an exhausted elevenses by the time they’re all washed, clothes ironed, dressed, beds made, breakfasted and dogs walked, animals fed… all to the various coos, squeaks and squawks of the baby. It’s great.

And I can recoup lots of gardening time by deploying the army of child labour: so far we’ve re-located the tool shed, cleaned out the greenshed and pulled up the rest of the ragwort:

At their eye-level it’s easier to spot a decent creepy-crawly too:

There was an inspiring sight on Gardener’s World this week. No, not Alys Fowler in a swimsuit, but the garden of this place. It seemed to be on a similar scale to our field. They had 25 volunteers keeping it in order. Without the cachet of a National Trust property we’re unlikely to attract that level of voluntary support. Accordingly, I’ll inform Emma of our need for 20 more children – as soon as she’s finished changing that nappy…

The hot, dry weather did confer one advantage over last season: a red tomato or two before the blight comes. This is Santa – my fancy heirloom tomatoes are still resolutely green. It was a real battle of wills to photograph these before they got eaten!

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Despite the clamour in my head of seeds needing sowing and weeds needing weeding, the animals are always, always first priority.

Late spring and summer are the relatively easy times for the keeper of the free range animal, mainly because pigs do their poos outside if it’s not dark or raining incessantly. This mundane fact cuts down the workload by at least two-thirds. Of course there’s lots of baby animals to watch out for but, compared to mucking out, this is hardly work at all.

After a peacable few months of lolling about in the sun, the shortening days seem to put the pigs in a mischievous mood. They’re naughty by nature these semi-wild pigs you know, not like the placcid, pink porkers most sensible peasants have… Last week the piglets, now rowdy adolescents, broke into the cockerel’s house just for the fun of it and trashed the place – luckily said cock had already escaped and joined the hens – lucky lad.

I’ve discovered the antidote to pigly restlessness is to give them new pasture to chew on. Yesterday, I carried baby and put in electric fence posts while Emma made good the sty’s defences once more.  

This morning, at feeding time, the usual slathering chorus of porcine punters were nowhere to be seen. The pighouse was strangely deserted. No need to worry, they were out there – munching contentedly on the horizon. Job well done, but that only ever means there’s someone else waiting for a pastoral upgrade:

(Thanks to my friend Garth for this splendid photo of  Daddy pig).

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Happens every year doesn’t it? This year we’ve been so well-served by the courgettes in the polytunnel that I’d forgotten about the half-dozen I’d planted out in the field somewhere. And anyway, last time I looked, they were dessicated and miserable like everything else out there. Well, the recent drizzle seems to have revived them and each plant was now attached to a ridiculously big marrow. With pigs and hens to feed, a marrow is an untypically welcome sight. I threw five into their enclosures and watched with interest as they figured out how to tackle this alien object in their midst.

The sixth was such an attractive colour that I decided to record it for posterity – with a couple of apples for purposes of recording scale, of course.