Saturday, 30 January 2016

More Trees?

There's been a lot of talk about trees lately.
So here's a bit more.

They are, quite naturally, a bit of an ongoing theme in 'green' circles, but as with a lot of issues environmental it's easy to fall into the trap of taking a 'one size fits all' approach. 
Which; as we know with clothes; is usually more a case of 'One size; fits hardly anybody'.

It's another of those tired old tropes; tree planting is always a good thing; wherever and whenever; a panacea for all environmental ills. And has previously, been used as a supposed 'get out of jail free' card to offset the eructations arising from our other activities that inpact the biosphere.
Thankfully; this kind of green wash hogwash is now more usually seen for what it is....

Of course more trees of the right sort, in the right place, for the right reasons...And then given thoughtful aftercare. Who could argue with that?

Even if, they had no other function other than to enhance the landscape.
These old beeches which grace the hedge banks at the top of the sunken lane are a fine example, of appropriate placement; their smooth grey trunks and the slightly 'melted effect' near their bases make me think of elephants legs.

Walking back home under these beauties; through the deep dark Devon lanes from visiting a friend last weekend was a proper treat. I'd almost forgotten just how lovely walking at night can be, it feels just a little bit naughty too... Out after dark; on your own....? Could be up to anything.

It also gives a heightened impression of, and feeling for, the more timeless landscape underneath all that distracting fluffy green vegetation and stuff we see during the day... The shape of the ground as it swells and falls over the bedrock. The bare bones of the older trees silhouetted against the night sky. And through the wet branches of course the light from those very ancient stars. 
Millions of other people could be looking at these very same constellations right now.
 But, no one is seeing them from quite this point of view, through this particular lattice of wood. We all have a subtly unique point of view on so many things; it all depends on our perspective.

I guess that could be what does it for some of us in the mountains, the rocks and crags give a hint of the earths' bone structure. Long views on time; as well as landscape. 

Learning to drive a camera for decent night shots still on the 'to do' list. The trouble is remembering it all, when emerging  fuggle headed from a tent in the middle of the night.

Of course trees perform multiple functions besides feeding the soul. Such as converting CO2 and sunshine into wood via photosynthesis. All those summers of sunshine released from dry wood at this time of year are appreciated in this drizmal weather; and are irresistably mesmerising when fashioned into a outdoor fire, especially with a beer or two to hand.

Encounter with Quercus and Ilex..

Also nipped out for a bit of a seemingly aimless wander on our local Pebblebed Heath last Sunday. No particular route or destination in mind, but I did enjoy a very particular encounter, the tale of which might have to wait for another time to be told.

This gnarly Oak has a lot going on around and about it.
The moss covered bark shows that it grows in a damp hollow close to the stream. It supports one or two epiphitic ferns growing in the crevices of its deeply indented bark, usually a sign of clean enough air. The fern and the tree coexist happily enough, but its not a truly symbiotic relationship as either could do just as well without the other, although i expect the fern appreciates being out of the way of pony hooves. There's also a good bit of dead wood in the form of a broken branch, so that hole boring insects can go about their business.

Hope this wasn't as a result of an injudicious rope swing incident; it's close enough to the path for that to have been a possibility; at least the good self mulching layer of leaves molding; should have given a soft landing...

And in the foreground there sprouts a sapling holly, most likely seeded there by a pigeon generously contributing its own 'starter pack' of fertiliser.

There was an interesting theory posited at a recent talk on 're wilding the uplands'. It was regarding this, and other types of springy groundstorey shrubbery such as hazel and birch. 
These are the kind of trees planted in hedges that are managed by steeping (more commonly know as hedgelaying) Where the main stem is cut nearly all the way through then laid them down so their lateral stems can regrow as an effective stock barrier. 

Our speaker suggested that the trees had developed this particular resilience in the face of onslaught, as a reaction to.....Elephants.
Given that all these woody species would have had to resist the browsing and trampling of those creatures when they were native at these latitudes, sadly* of course now extinct in these parts.
*although I wouldn't fancy having to fence them out of the veg patch.

The rewilding enthusiasts are hoping to reintroduce elk and some of the smaller wildcats and maybe hippos? No not hippos, I think it was beavers. But we've already stolen a march on them with that one..
 Our local river, The Otter, in addition to having cleaned up its act sufficiently to allow it's namesake to thrive; is now home to a beaver colony... Where did they come from? Well, nearly everyone knows, but no one is saying....Curious.

And in the background another use of trees found pretty much all over the planet: telegraph poles.
They can come in handy for all kinds of other purposes; if you can persuade your local replacement team to part with the discards for a few pounds.....Atopped with some wiggly tin they make a damn fine implement shelter.... Now to stock it...

Forest cover here seen at elevations well over those found in any part of the UK; with perhaps the exception of the particularly pointy bits of Scotland.....Taken during last Septembers excursing in the Pyrenees... Some sheep and cattle grazing does go on here, but at much lower stocking densities, and livestock are only pastured up here in the summer months, following the traditional transhumance model.

The UK has one of the lowest rate of tree cover of any country in Europe. This might be understandable if we were comparing our relatively crowded lowlands and productive farmland..

And while we're about it; please; no more well intention-ed rows of trees of any flavour planted onto good food producing acreage...  There is plenty of neglected lowland woodland that needs bringing back into a good state rather than planting 'amenity' trees on favourable cropping land, we need that to feed ourselves properly.

In addition carefully managed mixed species pastureland is home to many of the unsung heroes of the wee beastie variety; who may not be quite as glamorous as some of the proposed megafauna 'new kids on the block' but they are equally; if not more valuable in the ecological scheme of things.

 Random sapling insertion is a well meaning; but not necessarily helpful action; so often undertaken as a first move; by many people who have managed to buy themselves a little piece of the countryside, and want to 'do their bit'.

The uplands on the other hand are; as a result of the depredations of too many sheep and deer; pretty much denuded. This has come about as a result of many factors many of which are cultural: large amounts of land being held in relatively few hands; combined with a 'horny handed' son or daughter of tradition; habit of overstocking sheep on our upland areas...
Perhaps a gradual retreat in some areas might be allowed to allow natural regeneration as in the Caledonian Forest regeneration project?       (its worth clicking the link just for the pretty pictures of Scotland)

 Controversial with some; particularly as the hardy weather beaten upland farmer is one of those beloved far gazing creatures; of so much media fantasy deification.

No one likes to mention that he or she is probably making more dosh out of owning the land; than the woolly beasties that wander upon it...
And then there's possibly more than one or two hillwalkers; as might get a bit cross with "all these bleddy trees" getting in the way of our wide, yet unnatural, vistas.

I'm not unsympathetic to that view (or lack of) after our experiences last Summer; but no one is suggesting thick plantations of conifers, more allowing some regeneration of what would be there if the sheep and deer didn't consume every tree seedling that got over two inches high.

There was a bit of rudery opined re the pantalooned buffoons that swarm ( think the word might actually have been 'waddled' ...Ouch!) about the Caledonian uplands in pursuit of what should be a woodland creature; the so called 'Mighty Scottish Stag', that is, in fact, a shadow, sizewise, of what it would be if it was living in its proper sylvan habitat.

I was going to suggest 'Sheep stalking' as an alternative income stream and 'country pursuit' in the Welsh uplands, as a method of thinning out the population (of sheep not Welshfarmers dolt!)

But perhaps that's an idea; the time for which is maybe yet to come.....But; les moutons are pretty easy to sneak up on ...If the wind is in the right direction...

But, meanwhile, this lot have got some sensible, practicable ideas...

A tad moist underfoot.

Another reason that a few more trees might be of use in our landscape. This was the scene on the way home from giving a 'picture show' and talk about the farm this afternoon
 (Financial reward, for talking about stuff you struggle to shut me up about anyway!? Larks!) 
This is the Otter Valley flood plain, the river isn't usually in these fields, but this is fine, the clue, as they say. is in the name.

Riverside watermeadows are a buffer for the natural rise and fall of flood water. In fact these  pastures were once seen as a valuable source of  'early bite' : that is fresh spring sward fertilised and encouraged by flood waters; the new grass shoots emerging just a few weeks earlier and greener than higher grazing. 
Nowadays, that early flush is more usually brought about by bagged pelleted Nitrogen, which you really don't want getting into the river systems. 

There's also a lot of valuable topsoil that ends up in the river; and ultimately finds its way to the sea;  when farmers cultivate these lowlying fields for arable cropping.....Sorry I just don't get it...
 Churn up your most valuable natural commodity; and wave it good bye when the Autumn and Winter rains come. Oh does it rain a lot in Devon then? 
Shorttermism? Shortsightedness? Or stupidity? I couldn't possibly say...

But a few more well maintained hedges and trees in appropriate places, would slow down the water arriving in the river, taking pressure off communities down stream, which can be threatened , even if they have been bright enough not to build on the flood plain..

Getting a foothold, just, on the road to Torla Spanish Pyrenees.

Found this one as I was meandering the byways of the archive just now... It is a tree by a river so qualifies on those grounds... But I think we may have just returned to the theme of
 'trees as soul food'...

Comfort Break.

For those times when you know, you really should take a moment but...."I'll just get this done first"...
Feeling sorry for the folks who are only allowed to buy 'regular' carrots.

Did I tell you about the family who tried one of our veg bags once upon a time?

The feedback was as follows..

"We really liked the veg' but the kids found the carrots.....A bit too carrotty"

As you can imagine I've been tireless in my strivings to drive both the flavour and personality out of them roots ever since.
Can't promise this kind of sculptural beauty for everyone, every week. 

In fact on occasion, perhaps as a consequence of having such deep, root receptive, soil here; there's barely a comedy carrot amongst the 60 or so kilos we dig each week.
Leading to much consternation on the part of the custard creator who helps out with that task, whereat simple, earthy pleasures, are to be had...

Don't imagine that she has been totally idle in the kitchen confectionery department these last few weeks; far from it; but I feel she'd not appreciate me displaying this weeks efforts online. 
Suffice it to say there was some debate as to whether a straw might have been a more appropriate device for consumption....Pretty darn tasty all the same ;)

Thursday, 28 January 2016

To warm the bones...

On a frosty morning, Golden Beetroot.
Each ring represents a months growth.
The sweetest beets, and they don't turn your dinner (or 'other' things) purple.

Nine months of solar rays, Devon rain, and lots of love and compost.
"Bring me Sunshine"

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


That you only get the visuals. this mornings' task set off us off on the topic of "What's the smelliest thing you've ever smelt?" Gently decomposing cabbages take some beating..

Ok; I'll grant you this may not be the most exciting 'vegetable farming in action' picture ever taken, but then this is reality. 
If you need endless sunny skies, skipping maidens in straw hats, constantly chirruping birdies, and permanently verdant acres you might be better off elsewhere.....
"My Big Book of the Countryside" is probably still available secondhand. 
Or, I believe there are quite a few telly progs available, that amount to pretty much the same thing.

However an appreciable amount work done in the very pleasant company of girl and boy Tuesday. Grooming cabbages.... Who knew that such such fun times were to be had?

It definitely had its' satisfactions from a seeing what you'd done point of view.

And there is always a quiet joy to be found in the humblest of purposeful tasks; especially if undertaken with presence; and in congenial company.

 Because of the unseasonably warm and wet weather we've had this year, the cabbages have suffered what could be described as a 'mollusc invasion'. So many wee beasties, that a large proportion have been rendered unsaleable. 
That's not unsaleable as the supermarkets would have it, our customers are aren't so superficial in their aesthetic judgement, but I don't think even the most nature aware folks could cope with this much wildlife turning up in their veg bag..

Oooooo you lucky pigs......

So it's off with their heads (don't fret Vogons that's the cabbages' bonces not the snails) and transport them slugs elsewhere, whilst they still reside in their Brassica Hotels.

The resultant stumps will actually resprout with rather toothsome cabbagelets. Ready in six weeks or so. If anyone needs a name for resulting greenery I call it 'Spring Medley'. 
In addition to having special dispensations as to inappropriate usage of apostrophe's, us virtual greengrocers are allowed to use whichever florid appellations happen to suit our mood....And produce. 
Compensations many, for the occasional malodorous encounter...

I was wondering what to do with the huge pile of stuff resulting, as we are technically "Between compost heaps"... It is on the jobs list.  It seemed a shame to waste them, in the hedge bottom.

So Girl Tuesday gets 'Joined up thinking; path of least resistance' (or shortest distance by wheelbarrow) gold star sticker for today. 

Fresh piggles are arriving in a few weeks, and they will have the most treemendous fun fossicking about in this pile, so we just heaped them up where they will be enclosed. But I'm afraid our porcine friends are partial to the odd slug or snail.They chew up the big crunchy ones like a kid with a bag of caramels... Soreee; squeamish people...

As a less drastic future solution against the slimy foe I'm hoping soon to get a fresh flock of lovey ducks (Indian Runners; they're the upright ones that look for all the world like wine bottles running around on webbed feet) 
For them there's nothing better than rootling about betwixt and between finding tasty morsels and converting them into golden yolked visions of wondrousness 
(Fresh duck eggs; if you'd lost the thread of the not altogether unfounded hyperbole)

The residue of the last flock, all four of 'em who were no longer laying, got rehomed on a pond in the next valley over ... With an island; to protect them from the fox... Apparently they swam off without so much as a backward glance. They probably thought they'd already died and gone to ducky heaven...So at least if the ginger one did get them in the end; they had a pleasant few days of retirement. 

Guaranteed crowd pleaser this one....

A narrow gauge railway, winter trees and sunshine, and a tiny steam train.... Oh: and chaps leaning on their implementation whilst they admire the smoke drift from their carefully tended fire...

These moments of downtime are vital, to chew the fat, plan the next move, mull over what you have achieved, and to see and appreciate what is right in front of your nose. Fragrant or otherwise. 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Joined up thinking

And networks, and connections, and interrelations.

That is what it is all about.

We generally prefer to compartmentalise, and classify, and name, and say this is differentiated from that.

"Here I do this, but over there I do that..."

We have to; we can't keep nearly enough information in our teensy brains all at once; and how can we agree on what we're talking about if we don't give each thing a specific name.

If I want to describe a tree to someone who has never encountered one before, I might talk first about the spreading roots, then the solid trunk, then the branches, then the leaves.

"That will do to be going on with; thank you very much"

Says Mr Alien from Planet Elsewhere, who has never experienced such a thing before.

"I'll assimilate all of that before you tell me any more."

And only then can we move onto root fibres and their interaction with the soil (there's another life times field of investigation) and how those fibres take up nutrients from the soil, leaf mould, the symbiotic mycellium, and then the xylem and phloem in the living structure of the bole taking stuff up and down and so on and so forth.

 Furthermore we have to consider the photosynthesis in the leaves and how those cosmic rays from millions of miles away are absorbed and used by the leaves to make food for the tree. And the complex exchanges with the gases in the air, and seasonality and elevation, and aspect and so on.

And that's one living structure amongst hundreds, nay thousands of things, the like of which we are surrounded by on a daily basis.

 Not to mention all the man made stuff and phenomena we've dreamed up to complement, and or substitute for the natural world...

Is it any wonder we need either philosophers to help us make sense of it all; or vast amounts of fairly meaningless trivia in the form of Look! look! A distraction; to stop our brains hurting, at the enormous complexity of everything.

But of course at a molecular level it is all joined up, within the biosphere, and plant communities, and amongst all us 'higher' organisms.

When I started this blog I wasn't quite sure what or whom, it was for, or about, save being a channel for a compulsive writing habit....

Should it just concern the farm and what goes on there? Can I talk about yoga too? What if I go somewhere I find interesting? Could I write about that here? Or should that be put in another compartment?

Well, for better or worse, it's all ended up in the same place.
Because that is very much; what my life is like.

Most of the things I do, are joined up with the other things. They all feed into, or feed off each other.
Not everyones life is quite so intermeshed.
 Even the simple act of walking, or driving, or what have you, from ones home, to ones place of work differentiates..

Maybe that makes for a confusing presentation? An unfocused 'scattergun' approach?

Does that matter?

But then people start to read what you've written.

Quite a lot of people in fact (or at least numerous globally scattered robots; with interesting points of entry ;)

And if they, the readers, say anything at all; it's generally complimentary (with the odd slap on the wrist for misspelling; but I have to give 'em something to feel superior about...)

But oh, and then, ones own nasty little 'self generated' demons can start up with their chatter.

Why are you wasting your time doing this?

No one's really interested; or if they are; its only to point and laugh...

Shouldn't you be doing something more useful and productive?
You've not got to the end of that jobs list (never will) and look at all that paperwork still to do...

And at the same time I will admonish my friends for having that very same attitude; the one that tells them, they can't allow themselves to do the thing they burn for because they first have to 'earn' the right to do it...

It really is like we're our own worst enemies.

Where do these voices come from? That, is another field of study, for another day...

But back to our tree..

Remembering of course that no one is contractually obliged to read any of this stuff...
'cept maybe the robots...

And really even the poor androids should have a good yoga teacher; who can show, and tell. and adjust. and repeat, and show and tell again, and adjust and repeat, until it sticks for a bit, then you go home and you practice some of it.....

Or at least fully intend to; but something else comes up; like that voice that says:

"Why bother? I'm busy, or I'm on holiday.You can't make me..."

Like we're kids; trying to get out of doing our homework...

Vrksasana (tree pose) in front of quercus pyrenacia (pyrenean oak) on route btxt  Lac d'Estaene, and Candanchu.
Five languages in one caption, three living, two dead....Not such an'ignorant peasant...After all.

This one is very much a case of the leg bone being connected to the hip bone.
and some bio-mechanic; action and reaction.

On first sight it might appear that the bent leg is doing the most work, and undoubtedly to get the foot up so high, and the pelvis level, the femur (thigh bone) head has to learn to move well in the hip socket. It takes a bit of practice.

Beginners are at least allowed a strap; to help lift the foot in place.... Tuesday night bondage session anyone?

But there is (or should be) just as much, if not more, going on in the straight leg.
And boy should it be straight...Well rooted at the foot; and sturdily straight like a tree trunk......So the knee is kept healthy and strong, and your legs are able carry you pretty much anywhere.

And that foot pressing against the inner thigh bone, makes the outer femur head react, by drawing more firmly into the hip socket, making that stronger too.

Could be very useful with hip replacements on the NHS possibly not being a thing to rely upon in the future.

Yoga is often perceived as something that is done exclusively to make you more bendy, or perhaps an even worse misconception, it's only for people who are already flexible.

But really; physically in our practice we are working to get a perfect (Mmm?) balance between strength and flexibilty.

The happiest, least injury prone, energy giving, place; for a bod' to be...

As teachers, our hearts can sink, when we are faced with a 'rag doll' of a student who can 'make the shapes' no problem; but needs a lot of gathering into themselves, to build strength and enhance their bodily awareness so as to avoid injury.

Stiff people have to work hard, for every degree of extra useful movement, but they are acutely aware (painfully sometimes) of what they are doing..

I will often get people saying

"Oh I'd not be any good at yoga, I'm not bendy enough"

Well pish and tosh to that (more language!)

Its not a case of being 'good' at yoga; its a case of it being good for you.

 Done (and taught) properly everyone can make progress; and gain enormous benefit.

Because its not just the body we're conditioning; its the mind; and the breath; and deeper than that; if you believe in things such as spirit.

 (But you don't have to have any truck with the esoteric side of things in order to benefit.)

The modern world is just about catching up with the concept of the health of the mind being inextricably linked with that of the body; something that Yoga has expounded only for a few thousand years.

Question is; how could it really be otherwards?

What we eat; how we move; the air we breathe; the scenery we look at; the satisfaction of our labours; the people we hang out with, and so on, its all interconnected, and contributes to the whole.

It's all so blindingly obvious, almost to the point of it seeming banal to bother, to point it out.

That's not of course to suggest that all mental health problems can be sorted out so simply. The mind, and its healthy working has far reaching complex influences bent upon it.
Influences that, for good, or for ill, are built up over a lifetime, and sooner or later, when the time is right, may need some examining.

But we do mostly carry on living; and I know that some folks don't have the privilege of choosing elsewise; as if it wasn't all interconnected....

So as a nod to the fact of others not being so fortunate, last weekend I ran an extra beginners class on National Iyengar Yoga Day.

A number of newbies turned up and some were surprised that it didn't hurt and that their chakras left the class utterly unbothered....And apparently some of them quite enjoyed it.

And in the process we raised £150 for a charity that is taking low cost sanitary protection manufacture into refugee camps....

Even in the relatively 'enlightened' west, it can be awkward enough to find oneself out and about, 'unprepared' for what happens, for half of our lifetimes, to half of the population of the globe, on a monthly basis.

Imagine you've been uprooted by forces way beyond your control, and you find yourself in a miserable situation, totally not of your choosing, and then on top of all the other stuff you have to sort out to look after yourself and family, you get your period, and there's nothing available to deal with it...

"Oh great.....Now this"

One attendee on Saturday brought a contribution from her mother; who would have liked to come; but had other matters arising.

She remembers a time when it was 'normal' to have to use rags, even in this country.
And that is still routine in much of the developing world, which can lead in turn to all sorts of health problems. That's besides the inconvenience and shame, of a subject which is still taboo amongst so many people, even in so called 'civilised' countries.

Here at least, we can afford to buy our 'luxury items' (5% vat, thanks!) to make our lives more comfortable.

 And; in one other very happy piece of serendipitous connectivity.

In the process of putting out feelers for a potential trainee for the season (come and learn 'hands on' how and how not to run a small vegetable farm)

My old travelling companion; now living back in Australia tracks me down via my post on the oft maligned Face Book....Even the hairy homespun; permacultural; eco activists are all over it these days.

Much; much, and more; catching up to do, and reminiscing... Our best hitching record timewise being Honiton to Morocco in less than five days.

I don't think our first lift, a milk tanker driver on the A30, quite believed we were actually going to North Africa.

So who knows? She might be applying for the post, next year....

She's just got to get the ocean going pedalo fettled first...

Friday, 15 January 2016

A Winter Bounty

Some of this week's selection.
 Not spoiling the surprise as most folks have got theirs by now...
Potatoes, celeriac,  leeks, green chard, Tuscan and frilly kale mixed, darling sprouts, and some flower ones too, carrots (one cheeky novelty) and a bag of mixed salad leaves.
It comes in a rustic (biodegradable but otherwise not) carrier bag, easier to carry, cheaper, and keeps things fresher than the classic veg 'box'
Maintaining this level of variety; week in week out; year round; takes an amount of work and forward planning...

It is somewhat of a cliche these days; people coming back from their continental holidays and raving about the quality, variety, and freshness of produce available at the local markets they found there, and why can't we get the same here?....

We do, of course, have farmers markets in select(ed) areas, but they are often perceived as middle class 'niches' and I have to agree that not everything needs tying up with raffia; giving a quirky name; or displaying in a wicker basket; it can sometimes be a case of presentation over content.....

So why, is there less locally produced, fresh, nutritious, and delicious food available as the 'norm' in this country?

Here are just a very few reasons to ponder... 
(As I know you're probably quite busy; like me; avidly avoiding doing your tax return...)

  You get, in the end, what you're prepared to pay for.

So called super(?)markets impose the lowest prices upon their growers, and demand the longest shelf life. 
Flavour, and freshness, are pretty low down their list of priorities..There are a lot of packing stations, lorry parks, refrigeration units, and so on for those poor benighted brassicii to put up with....
And those "Oh so generous" BOGOF or special offers? They are funded by the supplier; at the whim of the shop; by the way.

Too much buying power in too few (Multiples) hands? Yes perhaps...

"But there are plenty of supermarkets in Abroadland as well yes?"

 Indeed there are, but many of those individual 'big name' stores are run by franchisees, who can buy from local suppliers if they wish, and they do, because their customers demand it of them.

 And those deliciously fragrant, wholesome, and picturesque market traders in France Spain Italy and further afield; are usually selling produce from smaller farms; which are encouraged and supported over there...

 Over here?

Not so much..

Even if you can become a farmer or grower here; and that's a whole steeplechase of five barred gates to leap in itself; policies of all sorts, at both a national and local level are very much set against you making anything like a living at it.

For instance The Common Agricultural Policy (Oi! Stop snoring you at the back!) is an EU behemoth of bureaucracy, the details of which, anyone keen to preserve their sanity, would do well to avoid. 

But bear with; just for a snippet or two; if you can...

 In the last ten years or so; farmers have been paid (if they own the entitlements on the land they farm) per hectare just for owning land and keeping it in a 'good state of agricultural repair'

Which means keeping back brambles and scrub, self sown trees, encroaching hedges, and any other 'ineligible features' by mowing and flailing at least once a year....Bad luck for wildlife; and anyone downstream of the catchment who might have preferred some of that vegetation to hang onto the heavy rain we've been having lately....

And in fact, even domestic ruminants, quite naturally supplement their diets with a bit of woody herbage if allowed. They, unlike many of us humans, do actually know what's good for them, and will eat it if allowed.

  So farmers are being paid to farm, or more accurately landowners are being paid to own land?

Could perhaps, this 'being paid just to own something bonus' possibly be a contributing factor to land values having increased by an unprecedented fourfold in the last ten years?

Most certainly taking land prices; or even rental; well out of the price bracket of anyone brave or foolish enough to be considering taking up food production as a livelihood..And expecting it to pay back the borrowing..

Fair and pertinent  questions for any tax payer to be asking...Whatever the state of their paperwork...

There are a myriad convoluted reasons why this state of affairs is as it is; some of which hold water (if you'll pardon the pun)
 There are 'public goods' or at least ecologically benign activities that are being promoted through this scheme; but it has to be said that some justifications for it take double speak, and obfuscation to a high art...
But basically in a nut shell, these payments replace the old subsidies that were once paid on agricultural production..

OK, so everyone gets this money? Even the little farmers. So at least it's sort of fair; if a bit cheeky if you happen to 'own' thousands of hectares?

 "Holidays in Antigua darling?"

Sorry that was several passages without a picture; but just in case anyone is still here ...

No; don't be absurd;  of course not everyone gets the questionable payments anymore....Heaven forefend; that wouldn't be right,,,

As of this year any holding under 5 hectares is no longer  eligible for the wonga...
Because; wait for it....
 Administering the system for teensy (here 4.96 ha) farmers is not 'economic'...

OK...Fine; if you say so....

But giving tens of thousands to the bigger guys (there's no cap; or upper limit by the way.. The more you own the more you get*) is economic . Mmmm; taking 'learnt on the playing fields of Eton Pig Latin wonk speak logic' to new heights..

Ooooo; Great!
 So now, we can have a good old go at those bad boys and girls, in naughty old blame 'em for everything we Brits don't like; EU'land for dissing the struggling semi-peasantry right?

 Err no; the decision as to the size of holding eligible for the payments was devolved to Member States. So in our case, the U.K. government set the bar for us...Much smaller farms in the rest of Europe still get their money ; we don't..Quelle surprise??

Thanks NFU, CLA, Big Agri' and the rest, for your tireless lobbying on behalf of the small, but productive farmer...

Antigua wasn't really ever on the cards to be honest; as despite being quite 'strong in the arm' the few times I've attempted rowing; its greatest effect has been comedic...

But, all the same, the company that delivers the diesel for the tractor doesn't take payment in cabbages; so that cash will have to come from something; or someone else...

Aha! I have it; late last year the doctor said I have the kidneys of a twenty year old; and we only need one each to survive right?

The brambles, here at least, were always safe from being extricated, they prove excellent deer browsing guards, for both the planted and the self seeded trees at the top of the hill. And in addition to being fruitful, all that other untidy, unsightly, 'bad farming' scrub provides a haven and food source for all the pollinators that much of the vegetable and fruit cropping depends upon.

Which reminds me; there is an incomplete post from a few weeks back; picturing a selection of the hitherto innonimate wee beasties that live here. A friend knowledgeable in these matters has offered to name them.

Huzzah! Further distractions from the dreaded T.R..... Lord Wotsischops' holiday fund will have to tarry a while longer before receiving my paltry tithe. 

Oh; and also, not forgetting, there is the gratitude that must be expressed to the Good Folks of the Vale; those in possession of so much sense, discernment, and taste, that they do support small farms like this, by bothering about from whom they buy at least some of their food, nearly every week, year round. 

* I have a feeling this advice has most likely been offered by wiser investment advisers than me, but here's my tip for free......If you do have some spare dosh.

"Buy land; they're not making any more."

*****Gold stars all round ***** for anyone getting this far...Sooo much text..Need to search out them googlie eyes, for some more pictorial buffoonery...

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Down 'mongst The Fellow Pebbles

First impressions, and half formed thoughts from Oxford Real Farming Conference

Still processing so you might choose to excuse the random note form;

Oxford is beautiful; but in a rather pleased with itself kind of way.
Or am I just being grumpy?

But the last thing that City needs is any more pretty pictures taking of it...
So here is one of our lovely cabbages instead...As apparently, more than three paragraphs of prose without a picture and people switch off.... Patronising? Probably...    Accurate? Who is to say...

No 'Green Tripe' here...

But still, hospitable of her Spireyness to host us Hairy Farmers in her ornately grandilicious Town Hall.
The Mayor, in his welcome speech ventured, in an encouraging manner, that he was looking forward to the day when the event outgrew the premises.... 850 delegates; and sold out weeks in advance; so growing; one would hope in the right direction.

Here to connect and reconnect with concepts, and friends, new and old...
Fresh discoveries.
From the deeply technical..... Literally; I had never realised that the microbial life in soil could be enhanced up to 15 feet deep.....Imagine the root system..

To the somewhat edgily social, and no, not just the beery professional gossip over pizza, with an ex Greenpeace G.M. specialist who also happens to be a yogi of mine...

She's going freelance by the way; if anyone out there needs a cogent, thoroughly scientific, non 'tin hatted, sock puppet' precis* of why meddling with such matters is a 'bad thing', and isn't going to feed the hungry; just inflate the usual suspects' bank accounts....

*I will expand soon; in a doubtless never to be read by those who should post 'ere long

 Deep contemplation, from a centipede. In general the speedier critters, being the predators, are the 'good guys' in the books of us gardeners. The ones who go at a snails pace less so... But they all have their place.

 I fear Chazzers' Estate manager wasn't expecting quite such a "Well justly though? Whose land should it be anyway?" barracking within the floridly decorated council chamber.

 We did listen patiently as to how HRH's tenanted peasantry were the recipients of a jolly good patting on the head; for being properly deserving sturdy rent paying farmerlets.....And how patronage was being bestowed about; by those who know best about such matters...

But all the same; you could argue brave of him; and several others of a similarly suited flavour to turn up.

One of whom happens to be a customer of mine... Oh; hello John!.....Waves...\ /
Well; I was fully intending to turn down that OBE for services to veg growing anyhow...

So; land reform anyone?

Might we enquire as to just how those extensive acres were acquired; all those generations back?
May we question the justification for such a small percentage of the population, to effectively have access to, and control over, the ultimate 'means of production' and sustenance on so many levels?

No... Unlikely; 'tisn't the English way; even if the Scots are considering....

But maybe; if we asked nicely; some of those larger landowners could be persuaded to long lease; at least; a small proportion of their (sorry; how purloined?) acres to my young; champing-at-the-bit-to-get- farming-but-almost-nowhere-to-get-started, friends in the Land Workers Alliance, and even perhaps to some other slightly less 'hair 'em scare 'em types'...

 Part of me wants to say to the youth "Don't do it... It will take over your life"
But I know they wouldn't listen; any more than I would have have done at their age.

And besides; we need intelligent; driven people like them to feed us in a way that can be sustaining and sustainable in the long term..

Despite being no champion of 'looking back on a life from ones deathbed' motivations; a limiting, one moment, driver for doing stuff if ever there was; I do believe that having fed folk; both deliciously and nutritiously; is a reasonably laudable thing to have worked to achieve...

Agroecological Farming is what it would seem we are calling it now.

Look, Look a market!... Wherein local people, can buy local veg.
This one in Norwich; which is deserving of more pictorial plaudits.

fascinating factoid # 43... Norwich is home to the largest six day outdoor market in the UK...

The jaunty 'Via Campesina' (!Up the small farmer!) green and yellow neckerchief bestowed upon, and worn when inclined, made me feel like a cross between a Girl Guide and a Zapatista.
 Probably not that far from actuality, personality wise, where'ere I be...

And of course the fork on our logo is of the muck variety; not of the pitching persuasion; I should have known - four prongs .... Not two.....What  an'ignorant peasant...

Sociable lunch in the company of the chap who runs the fascinating 'make your own gear' for the farm magazine... Thanks for the complimentary copy Mike, and sorry for nabbing the last bowl of broccoli soup.
 And greetings Alisdair who might like to come and get some grade 1' Devon Soil under his fingernails this season..

Bring on the Summer.

I like this kind of event; where; earlier in the evening you can be served your damn tasty dinner by undergrads at a white napped table, in the charming company of 'Just who is funding this research, and what results do they expect for their money?' disillusioned academics, turned independent stateside science writers.

Followed; a scant half an hour later by an enthusiastic discussion down the pub regarding the joys of nurturing an organic suckler herd...

With the natural musical accompaniment of ones hirsute chums; sadly there wasn't quite enough room; or energy on my part for the knees up..

So much, and so many to see and exchange with.... Too much by far; for one post. Even with pictures...

Quite looking forward to some simple conversation with my feathered friends the morn...
Although they do always give the impression of being fascinated to hear tales from outside of The Valley; at least that's what chicken talk sounds like anyway..."Aauwww?"

And, as an added bonus, when engaged with leaving my baggage with the Magdalen* College Porter, I hear a piercing whistle, no great surprise, in my line of work, happens all the time...
 But here it must be for someone else... Then my name; shouted very loudly across the street.

Of course 'tis old / young friend B' who I'd forgotten lives here.
 She forgives my so called witticisms over cardboard box reconstitution (she works in maintenance for a homeless charity) to the point of insisting upon buying second born (and from whence did he spring in this story?) and myself dinner; pre train to Norwich...

B' now lives on a boat on the river; and is instructed to visit the farm forthwith; or risk kidnapping!!

* Despite being from the kind of background where one knows that this particular Colleges' moniker is pronounced as if all of its studentii are a bit gloomy, it still annoys, in a "That'll sort the them. from the us" sort of a way..
So why did I stay there? Well price mainly; and I really can't do hostels anymore; unless absolutely no other options...

 And, upon departure, I resolutely resisted setting fire to the bed in an anti-elitism protest...
What a good girl (guide)...

Friday, 8 January 2016

Very Civilised

This is how admin' should be done...

"Lovely day for it."

But of course, I couldn't leave it at that, could I?....A real live engine driver to chat to? 
In fact the whole nonchalant 'man at ease with his paperwork' shot is an artifice.....As if he wouldn't have spotted me? 
So the Bure Heritage line pay many thousands in ground rent to the council. The money should be ring fenced for essential maintenance,  but of course....
And then there's the whole banked line that needs raising up by 4"; and new sleepers to go in. Clearing of the trees lineside, so the paying punters can see the views. There was a prodigous crop of light loving primroses; after coppicing was carried out the previous Winter, the local farmer had never seen the like. 
We commiserated re' the shoddy quality of modern fence posts...It's more the wire holding up the posts than vice versa as it should be....He couldn't show me the engine badges as one of the volunteers was restoring them at home. and so on and so forth ...

I promised to return for a ride one day; but there was a bus to catch from rather, excessively marina'd Wroxham. Very healthy Swan population residing by the King's Head there....Could feed a good few folks if essential supplies are ever cut off by rising waters....I'm sure Queenie would understand...

Narrow Gauge, near Wroxham

I got a shot of three chaps, leaning on their  assorted implements 'fixing' the line further up. Not entirely certain of the ethical position re' sharing that 'blissful indolence' picture publicly...And they had a fire going; so I guess it wasn't really work by then anyhow...

To gladden the heart.

'tis but a trifling thing to some,
A golden vision of vernacular loveliness; against the firmament azure.

Wroxham in the Broads, has a narrow gauge railway! And you can get there and back on a pink double decker; front seat, top deck from the mighty fine City of Norwich.

I had feared Norfolk might be flat and dull....That prejudgement fully extirpated.

Oxford was stimulating too.
Will expand further; once fully processed; by this gadabout "Filly so fickle" Farmer.

Monday, 4 January 2016


With a warm wind striking from the hillside...

The size of the universe is very impressive, with us on a tiny particle whirling around the sun, among a hundred thousand million suns in this galaxy, itself among a billion galaxies.....Man is a latecomer in a vast evolving drama; can the rest be but a scaffolding for his creation?


Yet again, there are the atoms of which all appears to be constructed, following immutable laws. Nothing can escape it; the stars are made of the same stuff, but in such complexity as to mysteriously appear alive - like man himself.

Thank you. Mr Feynman

And what cosmic luck to be, just another; unique-like-all-the-others; pebble on the beach; right now?

Swanning off again; to see what some of the other pebbles are up to; first stop Whimple...

Sunday, 3 January 2016

From the miniscule; comes forth much...

Seed sowing is of necessity a forward looking, optimistic activity, and it is a source of wonder the edible and decorative glories which can sprout forth from a tiny speck of matter....

However, despite being active in two fields in which this sort of language often crops up; I don't really have much patience with talk of 'Mystical Mother Earth Miracles' and 'cosmic life forces' when referring to real stuff that actually happens. 

Personally, it frustrates that folks can't be content with the utter awesomeness (!) of what we can already see and experience and know (almost) for sure on this fine planet of ours; and that they feel the need to go chasing after faeries; making magic potions; and invoking 'higher powers'. 

 Talk of such stuff can also put off a lot of people, who might otherwise take an active interest in matters ecological.
 Whether that would be the mind, body, breath 'ecology' of yoga, or out in the wider world.

I know each to their own ; but if we are to be taken seriously I think we might need to temper some of the more flowery quasi spiritual language that makes many peoples toenails feel just a tad too tight.....

 I'm more than willing to accept that there may be many many things, the nature of of which, as of yet  we know nothing.
 But perhaps our diminutive, vulnerable, human brains couldn't really cope if the true nature of everything were to be revealed.

  Magical thinking of any flavour is probably just a way of coping with, or grasping the enormity of, it all...And a way of quelling the fears brought on by our individual insignificance within this universe. 

Creation tales, allegory, mythical fantasies, and heroic stories, are it would seem, nigh on essential for a healthy psyche, they help us comprehend our place in this world. 

 But taken too far, and too literally, they can distract from proper engagement with what's actually here right now; right in front of us; and that which needs to be dealt with in a timely fashion.....

In this particular case sowing spinach beet, so that in a few months time there is something to go betwixt the sourdough and the poached eggs? .

The best substrate (proper name for sowing compost), for getting seeds off to a happy start is peat. 
But as all good environmentalists know, extracting peat, from the bogs wherein it is formed, is a 'bad thing' in terms of habitat loss, erosion, and carbon release...
So here, is a partial answer; this substrate is made from the run off, dredged from moorland reservoirs.

 A good growing medium, created by turning a liability into an asset. But, despite it being made from a waste product, it actually costs more than the standard garden centre offering. Due, one supposes, to the usual economies of scale, marketing of a niche product etc etc.

Tea on hand of course; nothing much happens round here without tea. 
And the special piece of wood in the back ground? It's just the right shape and size for firming the tops of the modules after sowing...

Top tip...If you don't want your handy chunk of two by four tossed on a fire, or incorporated into a building project, try writing 'Special' on it. It's kept this timber safe for at least three seasons so far.....
Imbued with self protective properties, by the magic of 'Sharpie'...

Feeling personally at risk of being cast asunder; or misused? I'm not entirely certain a T shirt with the same appellation is really going to help...

And then again there is the bigger picture to consider.... 
Soon to be departing (More trains....More thrills!) to the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Fairly confident there will be a plethora of top tips (and types) there. Must peruse (and get with) the programme.

But first some preparation for leaving all of this for a few days........ There's also an onward journey to the Eastern Flatlands to undertake before returning (Even more trains! Larks!)

 From what I recall; they have very big skies to admire out that way.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Twmpa at the trig.

Consonants never knowingly underused in these parts...

Looking forward to exploring fresh ideas, approaches, and places in The New Year.

With just enough 'scarey stuff' to keep close to the edge...Without straying over it.