42 weeks to go…

by Max Akroyd

 

Animals come and go on the smallholding.

Some changes I feel quite neutral about. For example, Mummy cat has decided that we’re a soft touch, delivered another kitten to our door and decided to stick around herself. Being hissed at in my own home by a fleabag, stump-tailed old moggy isn’t completely my cup of tea, but if she helps to keep the rodent population down I’ll put up with her, and her progeny.

Other personnel changes are necessary to the project and our nutrition so, it has now been decided: bye-bye Big Pig in October. Sob.

Yet more outcomes are downright embarassing to the blogging “hobby farmer”. It’s high time I confessed that, a couple of weeks ago, I lost all but one of my ducks. Not ‘lost’ as in some euphemism for something eating them (although I suspect they aren’t bobbing happily on some nearby pond right now) but actually lost them. I was professionally adjusting their enclosure when the vast majority just waddled off – exit stage left into the undergrowth. I can’t decide whether the remaining, lonely specimen deserves a dip in the gene pool or not, but I’ll probably weaken and buy him some playmates for next week. 

Anyway, the duck debacle made me more than a little apprehensive about renewing the geese’s enclosure yesterday. The ducks were lovely creatures but, to be frank, a bit useless. Too slender to provide good eating and seemingly too busy having fun in their pond to make inroads into the local snail population. Their replacements will be an altogether meatier variety. Conversely, geese are great: tough as ‘owt, grass-eaters extraordanaire, plus it’s difficult not to drool impolitely in their presence when sizing them up for the pot.

You can imagine my dismay then, when executing a complex choreography with the electric fence in order to channel them into their new area, they escaped. Fearing a fowl-free confessional this morning I manfully legged it to the house to summon Emma who was probably half way through a feed or a nappy change. Fortunately, around this time, we discovered another of the goose’s many virtues. I’d often wondered if they could be ‘driven’ i.e. moved from A to B in an orderly fashion. After failing miserably with guinea fowl and ducks, I’m pleased extremely relieved to report that the geese didn’t get away and are now safe in their new home. Phew.

Here they are looking a bit rattled, but contained:

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Although Daddy pigs are waiting for their enclosure upgrade, thoughts can now, finally, return to vegetable matters. The ruination of the drought looks to be finally ending: we were awoken by the exotic sound of falling rain this morning and this week’s forecast has two days of precipitation in it… No matter if it’s only more drizzle, I see this as the harbinger of the last significant episode of sowings of the year.

If you regard October as the start of next year gardening-wise (and increasingly I do) this batch represents last chance saloon 2010. As the leisure gardeners happily scrub their seed trays and wind down for the autumn, the slightly mad-eyed survivalist type must sift through the old seed packets again and discover what can be eked out of the dwindling days. There’s a surprising range of things, particularly if you like questionable salady stuff and obscure Oriental brassicas. From Abyssinian cabbage to Yu Choy, I’ll be sowing them all in a vain effort to paper over the deficiencies of those long, hot months.

As I’ve identified before, to be self-sufficient, sowings should be a seamless transition from one season to the next. This state of perfection represents the nirvana of the productive gardener, peopled by wise (but possibly childless) allotment buddhas. Instead, the result is always a confused, staccato chaos for me. Even the requirement to feed myself from these acres might not be enough to reform my erratic ways. But if I live to tell the tale, I suppose the style won’t matter.

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Here we are in the Upper Beds, shoe-horning some late sowings into the growing season. Things like chard, coriander, mizuna and even some carrots … a full list will appear in the usual place before the end of the month. The soil was as dry as it looks, but the prospect is still firmly set for rain, so here’s hoping.

Another recurrent theme this year has been encouraging the whole family to get involved out on the field. The two youngest follow us out there quite happily – in this instance baby is asleep in his pram and his four year old brother is lying on the floor for some good reason – but I regret to say the older lot do need a bit of bribery. Usually in the form of “do this weeding or no Playstation for you today”… It’s not quite the Amish ideal I saw on that documentary, but it’s a start.

The garden as foundation of the household economy is, however, established irrevocably. Shiva-like, Emma has an increasing role in the running of things garden-wise (although she still can’t get me to sow in straight lines) and increasingly draws inspiration for her artistic endeavours from the landscape.

Moreover, the smallholding, and particularly the animals, seem to be making a significant impression on our gite guests – and not just because they’re smelly.

It seems a natural progression, then, to merge all the different parts of the Kervéguen enterprise under the Rural Idiocy?™ banner. So, in future, Emma will also be posting on the blog, and some other things will appear here, there and everywhere.  I hope you’ll like the changes to our virtual home and thank you again for spending some time here.

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It’s a cool and misty early morning. I’ve let the dogs out into the light gloom and the door is still open so I can appreciate the cool draught in the stuffy house.

The sense of bereavement which comes with autumn is still only slight, but motivation enough to get things in order. There’s been much cleaning of the animals’ barns in the last few days. Surely rain will come with the dark and their time inside will increase comensurately.

The late, direct sowings have reminded me of the need for a nice, crumbly soil additive which can be scattered on hungry soil. This requirement was particularly evident once I’d removed the cauliflower stumps: what lay beneath the plastic had all the texture and potential of a car park. In response, I’ve created a mountain of straw-y manure in a distant corner of the hangar, soaked it with water and covered it with a tarp. It may seem a bit eccentric to house the dung heap indoors, a corner of the bedroom was out of the question apparently, but I’ve found if you put the thing outside the rotting down stuff soon gets engulfed by the weeds which it turbo-charges around it.

Lawrence D. Hills assures me I’ll have just the thing I’m looking for in a matter of weeks. I bought a few of his books secondhand and have come to rely on them more and more – they seem to know your questions before you ask them. A remarkable man: I’ve no problem with mortality but it seems unjust that a mind like his isn’t in the world any more.