The 2nd Summer

Hard to believe it’s my second summer here. Of course it’s nothing like the first but then I never expected it to be. I hear and see people complaining about it, but I’m out in it every day and believe me; it’s not bad at all.

Like last year, the hayfield (now named that officially) was cut and baled on schedule and in glorious sunshine. I opened the gate and all the animals streamed in, two by two as in the ark. They sniffed disinterestedly at the shorn grass and then headed for the margins where they all grazed happily as the sun sunk slowly on the horizon and the tractors across the gripe raced to cut the barley.

Cutting the barley

Woofers are thin on the ground this year apparently. I received an email telling me that some counties had little or no applications and as a result they had to lay off staff at HQ here. I was inundated but they all want to come in July or August. Obviously I would prefer they could be spread out a bit more, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Of all the applications I received, one couple weren’t put off by my grumpy reply telling them they would be on a week’s trial. I have found this sorts the men from the boys. They agreed by return so then I had to continue with my grumpy replies “sorry, I’m full”. I feel its only manners to reply. Unfortunately few reciprocate.

So far they are getting on fine. They won’t set the world alight but they remember to feed and water all and that’s the most important thing here.

Baginbun Head

They work here in the morning then have the afternoon free until evening feed. If they decide to go off for the afternoon on the two bikes I’ve arranged for them, then obviously I do the evening feed. But surprisingly most afternoons they hole up in their bedroom on IPads or on Facetime to friends and family. I don’t know, maybe it’s old fashioned to expect them to maybe want to see the area? I know if it was me I wouldn’t want to waste a lovely sunny afternoon in my bedroom.

They have finished painting the purple fence. I realised last year it was a monumental mistake but it had cost me a fortune so I decided to live with it. In trepidation I went to pick another colour. The guy who advises in my local hardware is a whizz and told me I really would have to use the same brand as anything else worked better on virgin wood. So because only a few shades come in 5 litres, I was restricted (the purple didn’t and that’s why it had been so expensive).

I chose cornflower blue and I’m happy with it.

Blue and green should never be seen…..

They are out there now touching up the lime green on the doors. Then when they finish that, some of the lime wash on the gable end of the old stone shed has come off (I think because the application was too thick) so that has to be redone.

The grass is struggling to grow thanks to a severe drought (the ground here is like a rock) and the hens. I had seeded the area and the hens were in constantly scratching and pecking so I fenced it off from them. It began to grow and appeared to be really thickening and greening up. I walked out there recently and realised it’s a dense groundcover of everything but grass. However, I’ve let the hens back in and I’m getting lovely deep yellow-yolked eggs again so at least they’re happy.

Beef tomatoes

My veg garden is beginning to grow after a very poor start. My tomato plants are drooping with green fruit, the courgettes are flowering and beginning to leaf up. I’ve been eating my own salad now for a few weeks and have started picking peas. I have kale ready and purple sprouting broccoli and cabbages coming on fast. The beans in the tunnel are flowering and the hanging baskets of strawberries and tumbling tomatoes are starting to produce. I’m not the most patient gardener. I get disheartened at failure. But I’m doing a lot better this year than last when I literally had no place to grow stuff. I tell you I’ve a heightened admiration for gardeners. Rearing animals is a hell of a lot more straightforward.

Rainbow chard and various brassicas

The fruit bushes I planted won’t do much until next year mainly because they were just kept alive for most of last. The raspberry canes were making great headway until the goats got in. I’ve now reinforced all the fencing and the gates and if they get in again it will be due to human stupidity.

Rhubarb and strawberry crumble

I made a rhubarb and strawberry crumble with some of my own strawberries and rhubarb I picked in the Colclough walled garden at Tintern Abbey. I had lunch a few years ago in a two star Michelin restaurant in Carcassone in France. I was underwhelmed by it to be honest, except for the way they had made the crumble. They had baked it first adding water and putting it in the freezer for a while before baking. I spoke to chef to winkle this information out of him.

It’s basically half butter to flour, rubbed in not too finely. Add sugar and then a couple of tablespoons of cold water to get it to clump. Stick it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes then spread out on a baking tray and put it in a hot oven for 20 minutes or so, scraping it in from the edges to prevent it burning.

You obviously need to soften your rhubarb in a pan with sugar first so it’s a bit more palaver. But believe me it’s so much better than soggy, half-raw crumble topping.

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