Monday, 7 May 2018
Oh, what a beautiful day! After waking to so many wet days it is a real joy to see the sun. Although I do not keep records I do not remember ever seeing so much rain in the first quarter of the year. It certainly made it difficult to start spring work on the farm as the ground became supersaturated and could not support the tractors and machinery. We held back as long as possible to avoid compressing the soil and making wheelings which then hold the water and cause problems with subsequent cultivations. In addition low temperatures made everything slow to start growing. Now the ground is warming up. The difference that the temperature makes is plain to see. Hedges are greening up almost overnight, as is the grass; fruit trees and ornamentals are thick with blossom; hawthorn trees and hedges will soon be a picture. I have not yet discovered if the saying "ne'er cast a clout till may be out" refers to may blossom (another name for hawthorn) or to the month of May. If you know the answer to this one perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me.
Locally we have a huge new Garden Centre to visit. Beside the "old" A46, not far from Bingham, in common with many garden centres it sells a wide range of merchandise in addition to plants and garden goods and has a restaurant/tearoom where the non-garden minded can while away the time.
Now is a good time to do some bird-spotting. While the trees are not in full leaf it is not difficult to locate the bird whose song I am trying to identify. Many are nesting now so it is not unusual to see a blackbird with its beak full of "baby food". They do work hard. Oddly, three male blackbirds seem to be determined to nest inside the farm buildings. They are constantly sparring with each other for supremacy. There are more collared turtle doves here this year; the chaffinches are back from their partial migration and several robins have established their territories. I was pleased to see moorhens back on the pond. The mallard ducks have been spoilt for choice this year, with water where no water should be. Brave swallows arrived on April 13th; they like to sit on the weathercock, keeping up a non-stop twittering when they are not swooping to and fro over the buildings in their search for insects.
Monday, 2 April 2018
There was recently some discussion concerning a tree in the churchyard. Felled many years ago, due to it's unsafe condition, many residents are convinced that it was a yew. There are few who remember that it was, in fact, a splendid specimen of a Cedar of Lebanon. The proof came to light when a current resident, whose family had lived in Epperstone for many years, was going through a scrapbook compiled by her late mother and found a newspaper cutting with a picture of the tree, undeniably a cedar, with an article recounting how the felling had been necessary. It is unfortunate that the local History Society no longer exists. Today's current events quickly become history but are easily lost in an age when so much is consigned to computers, and scrapbooks are a thing of the past.
Anyone who had been hoping that the spring equinox would bring a change in the weather will have been disappointed. In fact we saw widespread snow again, with drifting in a strong east wind. My hens managed to keep the ice in their water trough broken during the day but it froze each night, so that they were unable to drink at first light. It meant an early start to the day to thaw out the ice and provide warm water. Incidentally, I was inspired to look up the meaning of equinox. My dictionary tells me that it is the time when the sun crosses the equator, making the night equal in length to the day. It occurs about March 21st and September 23rd. Shall I remember that, come September?
The hazards of rural life: the congregation at the Easter Sunday Service in Epperstone church was larger than usual. The reason? Wellington boots would have been needed to access neighbouring Gonalston church as the path was completely water-logged, causing the vicar to take the unusual step, possibly for the first time, of cancelling the service.
Attendance was also up at the Annual General Meeting of the Women's Institute. Meetings are held on the second Tuesday of the month and guests are always welcome. The programme of speakers and activities is varied and interesting so it is no surprise that, in three year's time the local branch will be celebrating one hundred years in existence.
A last word on life outdoors. Songbirds are pairing up for the breeding season. The colours of the male birds are noticeably brighter and their songs more insistent as they seek to attract the females. Blackbirds chase each other around the lawn, robins claim their territories, a thrush sings lustily from the top of the cedar tree and the pheasant struts around the orchard in a very possessive fashion. Overhead buzzards, once a rare sight round here, are now to be seen and heard, wheeling and mewing over the paddock.
Saturday, 10 March 2018
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
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
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
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.