July 24, 2012

A Bigger Family

Summer has come again! It is an amazing contrast, emerging from our battle with the elements, to now find ourselves blessed with blue skies and a soft breeze, walking barefoot feeling the warm earth beneath and listening to the crickets singing their hearts out without a pause for thought. The evenings bring the midges, but they are a small price to pay.

Two days ago our sheep arrived. Soay, originating from the Hebrides, where they lived wild for generations before being gradually domesticated in parts of Europe around the nineteen fifties. They are a rare breed (on a 'red list' of European species) and very beautiful to look at. Ours are all females with elegant, tapered horns. Rams grow gorgeous curled crowns worthy of gallery paintings.

Five scared little things, four months old with big staring eyes, the slightest movement triggering flight, huddled and bewildered hiding behind their shed. We visit them quietly, holding out windfall apples and crusts of bread, slowly, slowly winning their trust. After two days they are already less startled as we approach and no longer try to push through the fence.

We have managed to construct their whole paddock at the front using found electric fencing and a borrowed battery. In the long run we will gradually install permanent fencing, but for now the gift of a functioning set-up is not to be sniffed at. Using strips of old lino and torn canvas we lay a grass barrier beneath the wires with a layer of sand to keep it tidy and in place. This is to eliminate the weekly maintenance of trimming grass away from interfering with the electric current.

On the same day that the sheep arrived, the local grain farmer came out with his huge combine harvester and flattened the large field behind. We are now tangibly close to the moment when we can officially take on our two and a half hectare strip behind the farm that crawls up the foot of the hill. It is of course yet another job amongst thousands, but the feeling of completing our boundary with our own hedges, seeding the entire surface with green manure to gently nurture the soil back to vital health, is one we long for.

With the presence of visitors I am at last finding time to do some constructive work as Maia is happily entertained by others. Today we manage to clear a pair of concrete pits behind the barns that have been used for dumping rubbish. The lower layers carry a rich red soil that reveals the traces of burned rubbish. Originally they were used as incinerators in a time when rubbish systems had not been installed and the influx of plastic was too overwhelming to even consider an alternative form of disposal. At some point they stopped burning and simply dumped, these later layers comprising of old welly boots, bike parts, plastic toys and perfume bottles, wires, rusted iron and the occasional usable bottle.

We load all the rubbish into the front pit with the view to create a flat surface. The rear pit will form the base of our state-of-the-art compost toilets! We are intent on creating a pair of toilets that look good and can be tolerated by even the most squeamish types! One loo will always remain closed whilst the other one fills. Once full, it will be left to rot down whilst the other is in use. The decomposed matter will eventually be dug out and used on the hedgerows and shrubs.

Cucumbers, courgettes, French beans, onions, garlic, potatoes and carrots are now coming up in abundance, and the first tomatoes have ripened. Already the pear tree is dropping ripe fruit and there are some apples almost ready too. Once our chickens arrive and a pair of milking animals (still weighing up the pros and cons of goats versus cows or dairy sheep) our trips to the shops will be rare. 

Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com 

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