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to block my beta, or to let it rip...

to block my beta, or to let it rip...

So my preparation to the run up of the great day commenced…

I had a huge amount of support and encouragement from family, friends and colleagues. An almost embarrassing quantity.

‘Why don’t you record it’ said Pavla ‘Then you can listen to it and memorise it whilst you’re doing farmy things. Or when you’re in the car or tractor, walking the dogs…seeing to the cows and whatnot. I’m sure Olly has the right machine.’

‘That’s a brilliant idea!’ suddenly I felt a little less daunted ‘I mean I can even listen to it whilst painting the windows! That’ll help.  I was fretting a bit. Torn, you know, between preparing and painting!’

You’ll remember that we’re in the throws of redoing all our windows and doors, plus 101 other farm jobs that have been on hold during the summer’s rain. Unfortunate in one way that dry weather and a host of previously arranged commitments coincided, but now being able to listen and learn whilst getting on with other things was an enormous relief. And yes, we had the appropriate equipment.

Other long suffering folk were held captive audience as I sat them down and practiced presenting. Robert and Ben helped with selecting photos and the layout for my powerpoint presentation. All manner of tips and advice came pouring in from every direction; I even found out one of my customers was a ‘presentation-pro’! Berengere, Ben’s wife with numerous scientific presentations under her belt, suggested I might dose myself up with beta blockers…‘Me? Are you serious? I’m a drug free zone!’ but she insisted that the very nervous do find oblivion in them. Well, who was I to resist…

So off I went to the GP. Having explained myself he proceeded to blind me with an impressive army of drugs on offer! I decided to leave off exotics and plump for common-or-garden beta blockers, as recommended. Most probably I wouldn’t take them…but, forearmed is forewarned!

The ‘natural’ method? My herbalist (I’m far happier with tinctures and potions) mixed me up a calming concoction she’d found very helpful for soothing nervous nerves, exploding with valerian and skullcap!

Finally my Alexander teacher gave me a spit and polish just to make absolutely sure I was balanced, grounded, centred, poised…and breathing.

Could anyone be more prepared? I don’t think so…

…and tomorrow – the finale!

dormouse of reed

dormouse on reed

“In the reed bed? Really? That’s extraordinary. I’ll let Robert know. He’ll be fascinated and down there like a dose of salts I shouldn’t be surprised!” I was on the phone to a friend of mine who had just called to say that some relatives staying with them had found a dormouse nest in the reed bed by the edge of their ‘lake’. Not only had they found the nest but the resident  had obliged by coming out and letting them take photos! Robert, you see, has a bit of a reputation of never believing anyone’s natural history sightings –  animal, plant or mineral – ‘proof’ is essential!

As predicted Robert was excited…though I did detect the old flicker of scepticism “Oh, and Sally has the photo to prove it.” I grinned “Though seriously, do dormice nest in reed beds? By water?”

showing herself off

showing herself off...

Apparently, yes they do, though it’s more likely in those parts of the country which support good reed bed systems. I guess  in Devon, with our glorious hedgerows and connected woodlands, we just don’t look for them in other places that often. Though Maggie of  Wheatland Farm did say they found a nest complete with dormouse in the middle of their area of culm grassland which was well away from trees (again with photo to prove it! Do click on the link to see them).

So down Robert went to Sally’s, not just to give positive identification to nest and inhabitant, but also to continue on his quest for hoverflies (now up to well over 120 species for Devon!).  He was not disappointed. It was a dormouse nest, with occupant, at the edge of the reed bed. Amazingly she, the dormouse, appeared quite unperturbed by her celebrity status, posing for these stunning photos! (…andRobert went on to successfully discover yet more hoverflies)

amongst the reeds

...amongst the reeds

gloomy

gloomy

Over the last two summers I’ve littered text with soggy simile, metaphor, adverb and adjective; written watery creative analogies; been moistly apocryphal, saturatingly colourful and squelchingly onomatopoeic. I’ve been sent bonkers by rain-driven frustration and suffered blue-gloom from lack of sunlight.

But now I’m emotionally ‘descripted’ out. From the once again watery swamplands of the farm I have absolutely nothing original to say about rain or sodden summers (though to be fair it’s only been July – it just seems so much longer – we did have a stunning spring and early summer, our memories though have been clean washed away).

I could, I suppose, thrill you with my efforts at pickling and preserving (but haven’t I told you about that a couple of times before?) or wax lyrical about the cleaning out and washing down of the cow palace (almost as captivating as watching paint dry, wouldn’t you say?).

Maybe I could let you into the little secret of the rat in the polytunnel…(ahha, I can see a glimmer of interest here!)? The one who munched his way through the whole of our corn crop in a night effectually destroying every cob? Who’s also gnawed each and every beetroot and is now thumbing his nose at us as he takes poisonously vicious bites out of all ripe or almost ripe tomatoes before we get a look in. Oh, and what about the powder mould that’s ripped through the courgette population and the worrying lack of growth with our second planting?

‘Yes!’ I hear you exclaim ‘Vengeance is sweet!’  Remember all the green ploytunnel envy?

ah well...

ah well...

A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay;
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon;
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly.

bees

bees

I’ve escaped, carved out a couple of minutes; I just had to tell you…

On Friday evening some friends came over for supper. They came to meet the New Zealand branch of the family. They came to pick up some plants. They came to see Dillings, one of our hay meadows, at its beauteous best; abounding, bursting, tumbling with orchids jostling with meadow thistle, intense blue-purple spikes of bugle, the cowslip-yellow flowers and rattling bladders of hay rattle, walnut-sized madder-pink heads of red clover, tall delicate stems of ragged robin, a yellow-starred understory of vetches – the whole washed in a haze of liquid gold from buttercups in the setting sun. D was whooping with glee as she spied ever larger fatter bigger better spears of orchids egged on by me, when a quiet thoughtful voice from behind us said “Isn’t that a swarm of bees?”

southern marsh orchids in Dillings

southern marsh orchids in Dillings

Stopping dead in our tracks we both looked high into an oak overhanging the field margin. “Where? Where?” We asked scouring the tree, squinting our eyes up through the dense canopy of leaves. “Where? Where? We can’t see?”

“Just there. Look! No, much lower” pointing, A guided our eyes to an oak limb not that far away “See? On that branch.” And there, hanging quite peacefully in a small fork not much above our heads was a conical swarm of bees.

'my' bees!

'my' bees!

“Oh, wow!” I spluttered “Wow, oh wow” I turned to A “I’ve never ever seen that in all my years here! You are clever!”

In the fading evening light it could have so easily have been missed and certainly, as D and I were ginormous orchid hunting our eyes were scouring the field at nothing above knee level!

I oh-so wanted those bees. Visions of orchid honey from bees that had chosen my very own flower-filled hay meadow danced in front of my eyes! But alas, I’m not a knowledgeable beekeeper. I had very little idea of how to contain a swarm, other than to brush or shake it into a container. And I had no equipment.

“Why don’t you check in the morning?” suggested A “They might still be here. They’re very quiet at the moment. Then you can decide.”

First thing next morning I checked before I started the stock round. They were still there.

At a reasonable hour I phoned various beekeepers but unfortunately no one was able to help…unless, that is, they could take home the swarm. I rang the National Bee Supplies in Okehampton and spoke to a most obliging man who said he could let me have some frames and suitable bee-collection wooden box until I was sorted, but, not until Monday, as being Saturday they were shutting. Mid-morning I checked the bees…they were still there. A little later I was phoned by a beekeeper who helpfully told me how best to collect the swarm and how to construct a temporary smoker out of a tin, chicken wire and a funnel. Excitedly I made up a bee suit out of Robert’s butterfly net (vale), my hat, overalls, waterproofs and gloves; collected up a bucket and cover, makeshift smoker with accruements, stepladders, a hand brush and set off up the drive and across Dillings to take possession of ‘my’ bees.

Arriving at the oak I looked up at the branch and saw…nothing. My bees had flown!

…I’m going to be leaving you on cliff-hangers quite a lot in the next couple of weeks as the house fills prior to Ben and Berengere’s wedding in mid June and when we, lock stock and barrel, decamp to Marseille for their nuptials and a week of celebrations. Arrangements for leaving the farm, contingency plans in case of emergencies, feeding and managing a family of between nine and thirteen and the general hurly-burly of  farm and household are swallowing-up most of my time and energy.

I just wanted to thank all you loyal followers and supporters who read my posts regularly and ask for your understanding if I’m unable to visit and comment on your blogs during the next few weeks. As soon as my life returns to normal so will my routine.

just coming into flower the rare lesser butterfly orchid hannaborough moor.

just coming into flower the rare lesser butterfly orchid hannaborough moor.

I’m sure this isn’t the only job where you flip from total elation to utter dejection in a bat of an eye but it must rank pretty high on the list.

I was feeling very optimistic about this year. After all it was a fine winter: frost, ice, bright cold days and even snow. I liked it, a proper season with humans, stock and nature responding accordingly. And spring? Spring’s been magnificent; full of sun and promise, smiley people and happy animals. The difficulties of the last two summers began fading into the distance. I’d even started to plan…

Then last week it began to rain (actually I don’t mind rain, it’d be a stupid place to live if I did). But this is not gentle rain or even just normal rain, rather the stair-rod kind we’ve experienced more and more over the last two years – monsoon rain.

no grass, just thousands of orchids and wild flowers thriving in Dillings, our hay meadow

no grass, just thousands of orchids and wild flowers thriving in waterlogged Dillings, our hay meadow

A blogging cyber-friend, Elizabethm, came for an ‘in-the-flesh’ visit the afternoon the rain started in earnest. After she left I had a long phone call with my son in France about wedding arrangements (he and Berengere are getting married next month in Marseille) so by the time I got out to check the calving cows it was almost dark and still pelting with rain. One of the cows, Hermione, looked pretty imminent. It was too dark to move her so I left hoping she would hang on till morning.

All night I listened to the sound of torrential downpours and the wind frenziedly whipping and slapping at the bedroom curtains. As soon as it was light enough to see I was up to check the cow and sure enough there, by her side, was a sodden shaking calf. At least she was alive, though being born in the worst of the wind and rain she had not managed to suck and was fast becoming hypothermic. As quick as I could I moved them into the shed, towelled the calf and began the long laborious job of trying to get a sucking reflex. Not as easy as a lamb, you can’t put a 40 kilo calf on your lap, open its mouth, clamp it onto the teat, hold it there, stimulate sucking whilst pinning its 600 kilo mother against the wall with your shoulder. You desperately need the cooperation (hollow laugh) of both cow and calf. Suffice to say after nearly four hours and on the point of giving up, I managed to get the calf on the teat whereupon she miraculously changed from a fading shadow into a lusty ravenous monster-calf!

hermione with her heifer calf sucking lustily

hermione with her heifer calf sucking lustily

During this palaver and one of my ‘it’s-never-going-to-suck’ exits we went to check the main herd. More drama! The river was in full spate separating a couple of cows and a group of calves from the rest of the herd. Both groups were bawling franticly at each other divided by a dangerously fast flowing torrent. In a situation like this it’s best to do nothing (the animals could panic and throw themselves into the river) and hope that both the rain and river will ease off, fairly fast!

hermione licking her calf

hermione blissfully licking her new calf

Luckily by the time I’d finished with the cow and calf the herd had reunited and we were able to move them back to the farm for safety.

So my optimism has taken a knock. Still the rain rains and it’s hard not to feel a little pessimistic about the outcome. We thought that building the polytunnel was a sure fired way of guaranteeing a hot summer and now we’re not so sure…but this morning there’s watery sunlight, no wind and a grin on my face!

The weather is all too seducing. I feel like a naughty schoolgirl playing truant as I abandon  indoor chores.

“I have to go and pick up some bales from the top.” I call out to anyone listening as I guiltily slide out of the office donning wellies and sunglasses (the eyes haven’t recovered from troglodyte-sight following the last couple of years’ rain). On the bobcat I change the scraper for the grab and trundle off up the lane, dogs in tow. The snail pace of the bobcat feels just fine today, and despite the engine noise the vibrant gloriousness of the farm can be hungrily appreciated.

Mission accomplished all too quickly so I reluctantly return to my office and try to concentrate. I get sidetracked by twitter, I get sidetracked by chatty emails, I get sidetracked by the phone. I just get side tracked by anything.

Robert calls up the stairs “Want to come on a walk?”

to help new puppies aclimatise themselves with the farm and surrounds whilst keeping safe, I carry them in a rucksack in between letting them explore. Willow has taken to this means of transport like a duck to water

to help a new puppy acclimatise themselves with the farm and surrounds whilst keeping safe, I carry them in a rucksack in between letting them explore. Willow has taken to this means of transport like a duck to water

“I’m trying to work.” I shout back “Trying…” And it’s definitely trying “So yes please…hold on a second and I’m there.” I give up all pretence, close down the computer, grab socks, rucksack, puppy and dogs and I’m off.

Robert’s day time interest-of-the moment is hoverflies. Having been on his course he’s all fired up. So with butterfly net, collection jars and an insect pooter – a thing to suck up insects into a collection tube (and I thought he was talking about a computer…) – he scours the hedge and wood line of all accessible fields and moorland; this wonderful weather has been perfect for insects, especially hoverflies.

We decide on Scadsbury, an hourglass culm grassland field bordered by ancient woodland leading down to the River Lew.  Primroses dotted among the soft pink-mauves and deep purple-blues of violets spill out of the woodland into the scalloped edges of the field; nature’s own subtle embroidery.   Dancing a jig at the very tops of pussy willow trees, males of the beautiful moth Adela cuprella seek to attract mates.  This small moth, with its metallic bronze and copper wings, and flowing white antennae many times the body length, has never before been recorded in Devon but it’s common this year.  The book says it comes and goes, some years being very seldom seen if at all, and others in some numbers.

the first bluebell flowers in Scadsbury Woods

the first bluebell flowers in Scadsbury Woods

Down by the river clumps of pungent wild garlic are linked through a green carpet of bluebells teetering on the edge of flowering.

after much newness and excitement...

after much newness and excitement...

Robert finds his hoverflies while the dogs and I introduce Willow to woodlands, boggy grassland and rivers. She’s entranced while we (yes, even Skye and Ness, though they have tried their best to ignore her) are enchanted by her!

...Willow falls sound asleep!

...Willow falls sound asleep!

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

Find our more about CPRE and our views on food and farming at our website, www.cpre.org.uk

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