As luck would have it, a windy hill-top is a better bet than many other places when some stormy weather comes through. There has been some dramatic news coverage on the TV and the local newspaper website from places further to the west of us which puts everything into perspective.
It turns out that I’ve drawn the short straw when it comes to looking after the livestock though, whatever the weather. However it’s all a matter of wearing the right clothing to suit the conditions and I’d worry about them if I didn’t check so I really don’t mind. Many others have much bigger things to worry about right now with flooding so I remind myself to be grateful that I just have to deal with some wind, rain and mud.
The heavy rain over the last 24 hours or so means that the field drainage has being tested a little beyond its limits but in the grand scheme of things I think we’re getting off very lightly. Yesterday the water was coming on to our land faster that the drains could take it away but the balance is shifting this morning and the water levels are slowly falling again now.
Surprisingly enough given that the wind was supposedly gusting at 70mph or more yesterday, there has been relatively little damage on our little patch. The majority of the problems have been a range of small(ish) branches blown down and in places these have inflicted very minor damage to some permanent fences.
Even the fairly new electric fencing I put has been a bit battered but it was easily fixed this morning and the pigs have already learned to be wary of it so they didn’t notice that a section was completely out of action overnight.
Planning ahead makes all the difference though and, having moved the cows into the most sheltered field in advance of the bad weather, there was no danger to anyone when a 50-60ft tree came down in another field and took out a small section of the dry stone wall.
I just need to get the chainsaw sharpened and enjoy a quiet, rain-free day by making a start on the free firewood for next winter. Repairing the stone wall will have to be done before the cows can return to this field but I’ll take my time and try to do a good job!
Last weekend saw some long-overdue clearing up of the raised beds and perhaps not a moment too soon as the current long-term weather forecast seems to show there will be no late spring cold snap this year.
After some minor setbacks last spring with plants being slow to get started due to the usual over-eagerness to get things planted and growing, this year I have come up with a new master plan.
My theory is that around the 3rd Saturday in March (the 21st this year) I will plant seeds in pots for a few selected vegetables and leave them in indoors to germinate. The likely contenders for this phase will be those that take a while to germinate or anything that needs a longer growing season.
This will be followed on the 3rd Saturday in April (the 18th this year) with the first seeds planted direct outside when the weather has warmed up a little. This will include everything else I am planning to grow this year and will hopefully be the start of some properly planned succession planting.
As part of preparations for the busy days of spring, I managed to clear a few other jobs which had been hanging around waiting for the right weather (and motivation). The most important of these was to properly plant the new fruit trees which had been heeled in for the last few weeks.
Learning some important lessons from the last attempt at planting fruit trees, this location is a little more exposed but still protected by other trees and it’s definitely better drained soil so the it should work out fine. I have also installed extra posts when planting to support chicken wire wrapped around in addition to the rabbit guards at the base of each one.
We had some damage last year from wild deer when they took a liking to nibbling the leaves but the chicken wire should do the trick for now at least. I like to see the deer roaming around the local area but I might change my mind if they have another go at my young fruit trees!
Having been given a very nice nest box some weeks ago, the local owl population have made quite a fuss lately because I hadn’t got around to putting it up. This was finally done last weekend and the results look quite good.
A suitable tree was picked out which wasn’t too close to the buildings and (with the aid of a ladder) I soon proved that you’re never too old to climb a tree!
I had hoped to put this up with absolutely no damage to the tree at all but this was not to be.
My original idea was to run some strong wire through a length of old garden hose around the tree trunk to hold it in place while also resting the nest box on a handy protrusion. Unfortunately once I’d done this it soon became clear that no sane owl would move into such a wobbly house and remedial measures were called for.
You can fix quite a lot of things with a hammer and a few nails!
After many weeks of procrastination eventually I decided to crack on with a couple of jobs in the woods. It was a nice weekend which helped but mostly I was starting to get bored with my own excuses for not making a start.
For some time now, one of the pine trees in the woods has been leaning at a precarious angle. However There didn’t seem to be any real risk of it falling on its own because it was propped against another tree.
Finally the time had come to deal with it, partly for safety but also because I’ve had a plan forming which will use that part of the woods for pigs in the future.
It didn’t seem sensible to put in new fencing when I knew that eventually the tree would have to come down. Knowing my luck, it would probably have fallen on the new fencing just after it had been finished!
I had hoped that once the trunk was cut, the sheer weight of the tree would dislodge it from the supporting tree. Unfortunately that didn’t happen but using some spare rope and a little ingenuity I was able to dislodge it with only a couple of blisters to show for the effort.
Now all I need is to get organised with chopping and splitting the wood into logs ready for storing in the wood shed.
Having recently had the electricity poles changed in our area, I made sure to keep the old one that was replaced on our land. Some of it has been kept for possible future use as gate posts but I set aside a bit to knock up a simple bench to put in the woods.
It may not look very fancy but I’m pleasantly surprised and pleased with the results. Especially given the fact that despite having only just installed it in the woods, it looks like it has been there for some time.
Looking back now it seems quite some time since the return of the lapwings and curlews followed around mid-April by the swallows that nest in our barn.
Now that we’ve reached the first week of May I look at the results of my early seed sowing with a slight air of disappointment. A hard lesson has been learned yet again about planting too soon.
This time around I waited a little longer before planting but didn’t make any allowance for our new location after moving much further inland and 1000ft above sea level.
I can take the blame for the timing perhaps but it’s too soon to apportion blame for the poor germination rate for seeds sown indoors. Depending on the results of the more recent sowings I’ll know soon enough whether it’s the seeds or the sower.
On the up side the 5 fruit trees (plum, pear and 3 apple) all seem to be coming to life so my first attempts at tree planting were successful. Hopefully they haven’t suffered any ill effects after spending some time in standing water due to the heavy rain over the winter.
Although the weather has been fairly mild since the start of the year we still got a frost at the start of May so it was lucky that I had a roll of horticultural fleece stashed away.
I have been pleasantly surprised to see the Victoria plum is already flowering very nicely – I hadn’t quite expected to see flowers so early in the year. Obviously I need to read up a bit more on all the fruit trees so I can make sure they get a good start in life in their first full year here.
The pear and 3 apple trees are much slower to get started but within the last few weeks all are making a start on leaf growth.
After the storm damage a few months ago with fallen trees taking out some dry stone walls, I have finally got around to completing some repairs. Luckily no one was around when they came down but the dent on the old gate is a good reminder of the event.
The eagle-eyed reader will perhaps also spot in the second picture below the remains of the offending tree which had rested on the broken wall and the gate.
Unfortunately I didn’t allow for the weight of the root-ball and once I’d cut off most of the top, the effect of gravity swung the remaining part of the trunk back vertical again using the wall as a pivot point.
Obviously I should have paid more attention in my physics lessons at school but to my untrained eye at least the wall repairs look fairly good!
After a dull, rainy day on Saturday the better weather on Sunday afternoon meant a burst of activity was both necessary and unavoidable.
Finally the trees that had been collected the week before could be planted after spending a week in their bags in an outbuilding.
As bare root plants, I suppose they might have lasted one more week with a quick check and maybe some water on their roots but I’m much happier now knowing that the job has been done.
This first batch was intended to provide some much needed diversity to the existing shelter belt by adding some more native broad-leaf trees. There are already quite a few very old beech and oak trees but far more larch/pine which are getting past their best.
For those with a more detailed interest in trees, this order consisted of the following:
8 x CRATAEGUS MONOGYNA (Hawthorn)
4 x FAGUS SYLVATICA (Common Beech)
4 x QUERCUS ROBUR (English Oak)
5 x BETULA PENDULA (Silver Birch)
3 x BETULA PUBESCENS (Downy Birch)
From my point of view, one of the unexpected joys of planting trees for the first time was the slow realisation that all your work will take years to develop which is such a contrast to the more immediate gratification of planting vegetable seeds.
It has been suggested that some of our trees are well into their second century which puts day-to-day life into perspective a little!
Most of this new planting was to fill an existing gap where some older trees had obviously come down long ago but never been replaced. A couple of the English Oak were planted elsewhere though to fill out some spots before any gaps develop.
Time will tell how successful my efforts have been (a great deal of time in fact) but by the end of the afternoon I was certainly glad the work was finished!
After the good work on the first fallen tree discussed in the previous post, it was time to get working on the second tree. All through the Christmas period it was more a case of “out of sight, out of mind” so the work could be ignored – plus it was not the sort of weather for chainsaw work outdoors and we had a house full anyway!
Today was such a nice day though that there were no more excuses for not getting outside!
The experience gained when tackling the first tree definitely paid off with this one and it seemed that in no time at all the branches were cleared. The main cuts were easily completed to get the trunk to manageable pieces.
After the previous photo was taken, I moved on to tackle the remaining length of tree trunk which was hanging over the dry stone wall. This was tackled carefully as the trunk was resting on both the wall, an old metal gate and just one side branch.
Some sizing up of the situation was followed by a strategic cut in what I thought was a suitably place… however the laws of physics cannot be ignored in the same way that I had ignored the weight of the root ball.
It’s not a major problem and there was no risk of injury but it was a little surprising when it happened and another example of the caution needed when working on fallen trees with a chainsaw.
That seems a suitable point to clear up the field especially I could see the clouds looming as the weather closed in. All in all a job well done and luckily the rickety trailer we inherited from the previous owners was up to the job of moving this back to the barn.
A couple of trees came down in the stormy weather at the start of December and just before Christmas I eventually got around to making a start on them. This post is a belated look back at that work now that life is returning to something like normal.
I’m no tree expert but as far as I can tell one is a larch although the other tree is a bit of a mystery to me for the moment – the lack of leaves gives me little to go on. Some proper research will be needed eventually but for now it’s the hard work that needs to be done.
Luckily these two trees only fell across a ramshackle compost heap in the corner of a field and a dry stone wall. The chicken houses are fairly close but well clear of any possible damage from this or future falling trees.
We’ll also need to do some minor repairs to the wall once the trees have been cleared but more importantly I need access to the compost heap when cleaning out the chicken houses!
After much effort and careful use of the shiny new chainsaw, the first tree was cleared back to the dry stone wall. A very gratifying amount of progress in a brief spell of dry weather but in the end rain stopped play.
At first glance, it looks like some good progress was being made but on closer inspection it’s clear that much more of the tree is still there on the other side of the wall!
First job is to clear the field and compost area while getting the wood into usable sized logs stored somewhere dry. Eventually a log splitter will be needed but hopefully we can borrow one from someone locally for our first attempt!
I had ordered 5 fruit trees some time ago but it wasn’t until I came to plant them last weekend that I found myself pondering whether my efforts would qualify as an “orchard” or even if there was a formal definition which specified a number of trees.
In my mind, the term implies a fairly large number of trees and conjures up images of west country cider orchards which gnarled old trees laden with fruit. The trees I bought are only 1-year-old and arrived bare root so they’re not much to look at right now.
As a result of all this I was perhaps understandably hesitant to use the term “orchard” when referring to our limited number of trees. After all there are only 3 apple trees (James Grieve, Meridian and Queen Cox), 1 pear (Concorde) and 1 plum (Victoria).
Luckily a quick check on Wikipedia seems to show that I’m right…
An orchard is an intentional planting of trees or shrubs that is maintained for food production.