Saturday, 10 March 2018

February Fill Dyke

Well, what a month we have had.  The wet weather of February is but a distant memory, blotted out by the snow and the incredibly cold east wind we experienced earlier this month. On the farm it was a battle to get water to the horses; the hens water supply froze nightly and had to be thawed out each morning; not a pleasant task.  As an egg contains a high percentage of water I anticipated a drop in egg production but the hens, clearly finding they were better off inside than out, managed to keep on laying.   The extreme cold then gave way to a quick thaw which inevitably, in spite of having taken preventative measures against the cold, lead to burst water pipes.  However, we must be thankful that, for now at least, temperatures are back to normal for the time of year and we hope that we shall not see a  return of the snow which is still affecting other parts of the country.

As the breeding season approaches many birds are singing lustily.  Perhaps they are making up for lost time.  The feeders need replenishing daily.  A group of long-tailed tits visits regularly, there is an increase in the number of chaffinches and a pair of bullfinches has also been seen.  It would be good if their numbers increased.  The barn owls which nest locally must have had difficulty finding food as they rely, for a large part, on small mammals, such as voles, which would have been hidden under the snow.  A heron was seen inspecting the pond; it flew off unsatisfied, the fish being well down in winter.  March is the month for Toadwatch, of course, when Beanford Lane is closed to protect the toads crossing the road to spawn in the lakes.  Additionally there will be toad signs in Blind Lane, in Oxton, warning drivers to take care as toads will be crossing.  Local residents, who will be patrolling as usual, will be happy for any support given. 

The Bookcase, in Lowdham, has published the First Friday programme of talks, all of which involve subjects of local interest.  The talks take place in the Methodist Chapel, in Lowdham on the first Friday of the month. If all are of the calibre of the Pitman's Story they are definitely not to be missed.  Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan operas can also enjoy the cabaret and film night in Lowdham Village Hall on March 30th.  Anyone who enjoys a social evening plus talks on a range of subjects of rural interest may be interested in the Country Link organisation. The next talk, to take place at The Gleaners, in Calverton, will be about the British Equestrian Federation.  Non-members, for whom there is a small charge, are, of course, welcome.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

February Brings the Rain.....


More rain.  Not much different from January, really.  Are those who live in the country more conscious of the weather?  It certainly dominates the conversation at the moment.  I felt quite pleased to see it was the subject of an article published by a regular contributor to the parish magazine, The Dover Beck, and to see that I am not the only one to feel that January is a hard month to deal with.  Admittedly we only had a dusting of snow in the south of the county but there have been some bitter winds.

The garden birds have made the most of the birdfeeder, which is filled daily. On several  occasions we have  hosted a group of long-tailed tits; a heron was spotted, inspecting the pond for fish, but flew off disappointed.  A  thrush has joined the chorus of birds tuning up for spring.  He is easy to spot as he sits on the topmost branch of the Lebanon cedar on the lawn in front of the farmhouse.  I hope it is a song thrush, not a mistle thrush as there are fewer of  them but I need a few more clues before I can be certain.  From time to time a horde of starlings also descends to feed.  They nest in a small spinney of beech trees behind the farm.  It shows on old maps as quite an extensive wood which probably accounts for the name of the farm being Eastwood.

Lowdham Bookcase First Friday talks in the Methodist Chapel kicked off with
A Nottinghamshire Pitman's Story, a book commemorating the ending of an industry which was once a way of life.  The  author, David Coleman, a former pitman, held his audience spellbound with his many authentic stories, anecdotes and poems, the while dressed in full miner's working kit.  It seems regrettable that an industry which employed so many men has no mining museum in Nottinghamshire.  Steam railways have their volunteer enthusiasts; perhaps it is something that could be considered by those who feel that mining was a major industry  in the county and a part of our heritage and should not be forgotten.

Life on the farm, at this time of year, is concentrated mainly on maintenance, tidying, apple and pear tree pruning (by the end of the month) in fact all the jobs which need tackling but for which there is rarely time  in the spring or summer.  Talking about the farm got us wondering about the meaning of the word "Hagg" as in the address, Hagg Lane.  I once read that it was an old Norse word, meaning a ravine.  I like that explanation as the lane, fifty years ago, really was deep and steep, with a high bank on either side.  If anyone has an alternative suggestion do, please, pass it on to me.  I would be really interested.            


Sunday, 7 January 2018

Eastwood Farm : Whether the Weather be Cold...

Eastwood Farm : Whether the Weather be Cold...:                                                                         Twelth Night has passed, and Christmas decorations are down.  I...

Whether the Weather be Cold...


Twelth Night has passed, and Christmas decorations are down.  It is time to get outside and do those winter jobs that I thought up in summer, but always forget to take into account the outside temperature and the possibility of rain.  Fiery red skies at night have been a feature of this winter.  I am not sure if they have proved to be a shepherd's delight, as the saying goes, but they have certainly delighted me.  Recently, though, they are in "Red skies in the morning, shepherd's warning " mode, and not without reason.  High wind and heavy rain has followed; a tree came down, obstructing the street through the village.  Fortunately it happened at night, causing neither injury nor damage.  It was, however, a timely reminder that, if the area on which a tree falls is used by the public, any damage caused  is the liability of the owner of the land on which the tree is growing.  This makes an annual inspection a wise decision.

The sheep have left us, having grazed their plot to an acceptable level. There were two , casualties, attributable in all probability to an out- of-control dog, but no means of identifying the culprit.  It is fortunate that the toll was not higher.

The tawny owl has started to call again although the breeding season is not normally before March. It lives in a beech tree, quite close to the farmhouse, and startles me when I go to shut the henhouse at night; a necessary precaution against foxes. The robin also thinks that spring is not far away; they are one of the earliest in the year to start up again and also sing quite late into the evening.  At this time of year the birds are clearly grateful for the food I put out. They have peanuts, suet balls, niger seed and mixed seed and the feeders are filled every day.  The feed comes from a farmer near Spalding who grows much of the seed himself.  He keeps extensive records of the weather, the birds on his farm and also supplies feeding equipment and nest boxes - a useful contact to have.

On a final note, as this is mainly about birds; a huge flight of geese went over last evening, in the echelon formation characteristic of the greylag goose.  The  sound they make as they fly and their slow, strong wingbeats, make them readily identifiable.

The last word.

"Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot,
 We'll weather the weather whatever the weather
 Whether we like it or not"      


Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Fall - Well Named


Mid November; temperatures plummeted and felt lower still in the keen wind.  It seems, however, to have been a temporary blip and we are now back to an unseasonable but comfortable fourteen degrees or so.  The countryside is in winter mode.  Most of the trees have lost their leaves now, brought down by wind and rain.  Soon I shall be able to take leaf sweeping off the daily chores list.  It has been a beautiful autumn for colour, due, I believe, to the amount of rain in September which allowed the trees to hold their leaves for longer.
Those who attended Epperstone's Laying of the Wreath ceremony on Remembrance Day were grateful for the sun which shone.  The occasion, marked this year by the addition of the Last Post and the Reveille played on the bugle, seems to have particular relevance in a small village, as so many of the names which are read out are from families whose relatives still live  in the area.

The Bookcase in Lowdham held its usual Christmas Shopping morning, a useful as well as social event, which included a demonstration of Christmas canapes (tasting obligatory)!  How do they  do it in such small premises?  The First Friday talk, entitled "The Wisdom of the Mountains" concerned the Buddhism of Tibet and the Himalayas and, though an unusual subject, was very well attended.  Also well attended was the Women's Institute 97th birthday party.  No sign of jam and Jerusalem but the usual splendid buffet, followed by a lesson in Bollywood dancing.  The more adventurous members dressed in saris, expertly draped by the demonstrator, followed her movements and gestures closely as she explained their meaning; an unusual and entertaining end to the evening.  It cannot be said that we are limited in our range of interests.
Not a lot to report on farming activities.  It has not been an easy year, as was confirmed by several farmers attending a recent meeting of the Nottinghamshire Farm and Country Tourism Group.  Weather and ground conditions as winter approached made delayed drilling an anxious time.  This was followed by two weeks of entirely suitable weather which, had we been sure of in advance, would have substantially lowered stress levels.  That's farming for you.




Tuesday, 16 February 2016

January Brings the Snow.....

....but it didn't, so shall we get it this month?  Here in the East Midlands we have only woken once to a light sprinkling of the white stuff and it did not last long.  As I write I am looking at sunshine and frosty ground outside; I have a feeling we have not seen the back of winter yet.

There is a lot of blackthorn in the hedges locally and that is flowering already; birds are pairing up in readiness for breeding.  This week, from February 14th - 21st is National Nest Box Week.  Modern building methods and a "tidy" countryside have caused a loss of habitat for many species of bird.  Consider putting up a nesting box, even if you only have a small garden. There are many different types and sizes available; you will see it being checked out by prospective occupants and in due course can have the pleasure of watching nest-building and subsequent brood-rearing activities.

Heavy rainfall earlier in the month left water standing in fields, making ponds where no ponds should be.  Wild ducks were quick to spot them and when I went into the pony paddock I was amused to see five mallard making the most of this new feature.

A recent, and not entirely welcome, visitor to the bird feeders, has been the sparrowhawk  He comes at around noon, when the bluetits and other small birds are feeding.  Sitting in the damson tree he is well-disguised and can dart out and scoop up any bird who is not aware of his presence.  The birds learn quickly, though and find safety amongst the tangle of branches where the sparrowhawk cannot make a quick grab.  His strategy has been to dive at them repeatedly until they tire and are then not quick enough to avoid him.  It is fascinating to watch and although I would prefer not to see the capture, it is nature at work and not for me to interfere.

The evenings still seem quite long so it was no hardship to attend a meeting of the Women's Institute this month.  Jane Streeter, proprietor of The Bookcase, in Lowdham, gave an interesting talk entitled, appropriately, "More Than a Book Shop"  From a very small beginning the shop has evolved to develop a wide range of activities, thereby extending it's appeal to a much greater number of local supporters, not simply to readers.  The best known is probably the Festival in June but events throughout the year include film shows in the Village Hall (complete with popcorn), First Friday talks in the Methodist Chapel, by writers, collectors and others with special interests.  I am looking forward to the first weekend in March when a number of films based on books are to be shown.  It will be difficult to chose which ones to see but if you are staying at The Mews there is certain to be something of interest to you - a perfect chance to widen your horizons.

Monday, 1 February 2016


So the winter drags on.  Mid-January saw a dramatic fall in temperature and we had our first snowfall.  In twenty-four hours it had nearly gone and we waited to see if the old saying that it takes another snowfall to take the first away was fact or fiction.  Well, I can report that, in 2016 at least, it was fiction because two days later there was no trace of snow and once again the temperature had risen.  As I have said before, in Britain we don't have climate, we have weather.

My small free-range flock of laying hens is wintering well; the rain does not seem to bother them although it makes for unpleasantly muddy conditions underfoot. So far only two are moulting; that is also unusual.  It makes them fair game for the others who take every opportunity to peck them - a clear demonstration of the meaning of the phrase "the pecking order".

It will be interesting to see the result of the Farmland Bird Count which is scheduled to take place between February 6th - 14th.  With buzzards, foxes and badgers on the increase I  expect to see a reduction in the numbers of ground-nesting birds.  It is important to leave cover to protect them wherever possible.  I find it hard to believe that House Sparrows, are on the endangered list, as there are plenty to be seen here.  They live in quite large family groups, are incredibly shy, and fly into the nearest hedge at the slightest disturbance.  Another attractive visitor is the Long-Tailed Tit, or rather, Tits, for they also live in families.  They are a delight to watch and hear as they fly down onto the bird feeder for a welcome top up.

On the farm we continue the battle against blackgrass.  It has appeared in yet another field.  Where does it come from?  Spraying at the right stage of development and in the right conditions is critical to success in eliminating, or at least reducing it, but so often the weather dictates and we cannot get onto the land without damaging the soil structure.  It then becomes necessary to employ a contractor, who will have the best equipment for the job, but this will add to the cost; a difficult decision to make.