Saturday, 23 February 2013

Out with the cold and in with the warm

Winter's still here with below zero temperatures, but it's been dry for over a week. It's impossible to overstate just what a psychological lift this has given all of us. Farmers are pulling their ploughs again, dogs come in the house clean, clothes can dry outside on the line, I can walk in the field and drop hay to the horses without re-enacting the skating scene from Bambi. 'Cold and dry' trumps 'cold and wet' any day of the week.

Yet there are signs of spring just showing on the margins: there's a lot more bird song in the morning and at dusk. The straw lorries drive our one lane roads and scrape their loads under trees, dislodging stems that the blackbirds and magpies gather from the side of the road, presumably to start building their nests.

The chickens are noisy too, and egg production is up. Cock pheasants are squaring up to each other in the back field. Hen pheasants ignore the 'Fight Club' antics and continually peck the ground for food. They have to build up reserves to lay eggs and sit their nests.

We are catching up the laying stock now. We've set up the catchers, and empty them three times a day
The birds walk in through the narrowing tunnels to get to the bin full of food. We catch them inside by hand, and crate them up, a dozen birds to a crate -

Then we release them into large outdoor pens where they can lay eggs, protected from predators like foxes and buzzards. We're hoping to keep between 2,500 - 3,000 hens in our laying pens this season.

The gardens are waking up, though it will be a while before the soil warms up enough to start planting. Bulbs are flowering. Mike picked me a daffodil - hand-stolen from the drive leading to the Lord and Lady's house - a seasonal, annual ritual (he also picks me the first snowdrop, and brings home four-leaf clovers that he finds while tending the pheasants.)

There are still a few hardy outliers in the veg patch, like cabbages and kale. Our purple sprouting broccoli crop is finally coming to fruition -

Two great clumps of parsley overwintered well in the greenhouse -

Most of the parsley will have to come out to accommodate tomatoes. The wild garlic leaves growing in the woods are just about big enough to pick, so I think I'll make a batch of parsley-wild garlic pesto. After winter, our freezers are well-stocked with meat but I'm craving vegetables now, something fresh and green. I'm dreaming of pea and mint soup, even as I see a few snowflakes dropping outside my window. I've had my fill of winter.

Our dogs are coming into their seasons. This year, it's time to think about bringing on a young spaniel, so I took Podge to a stud dog last week. If it was successful, we can expect "Podgelets" in about two month's time. We'll be lambing a couple of ewes at that time too, and the hatchers will be full of pheasant chicks, so it will be baby-mania here.

I have acquired a Shepherd's hut for this year's lambing -

It looks deceptively like an old caravan with flat tyres, but when I finish repairing and redecorating inside, it will be "Shepherd Hut Chic". I can sleep in it, parked right in the field with my pregnant ewes. In summer, it will be the boys' tea room on the pheasant rearing field. Best of all it was free!

I hope cold and dry will soon become warm and dry, preferably before we run out of firewood. We used more than expected because our boiler broke and we were without heat and hot water for a few weeks. It's repaired now, but our reserves - in every sense of the word - are low now. A dose of sunshine would certainly refill our tanks.


BilboWaggins said...

I think we're all appreciating some dry weather right now, even if the media are telling us it's colder than the Arctic and will last until end of March.

If you love pea & mint soup, have you tried pea and pesto? Let me know if you want a recipe, it's fast and delicious.

Jennifer Montero said...

BW - I would love that recipe. Just picked wild garlic leaves this morning so about to make some pesto. Thanks!

janice bendixen said...

Okay, this comment stream is making my mouth water. Yes, people, it is colder there than here. Currently in Palmer, Alaska, it's 30+ w calm winds. We've had no snow since last weekend and then it was merely trace. But since we began winter with nearly -30, I'll take the mild and leave you the cold. Wd someone post the pea and garlic recipe? I have the mint version (thanks Jen). I agree, I'm all for the green at this point!

BilboWaggins said...

I guess you're busy with lambing right now, sent you the soup recipe end of Feb, hope it arrived OK. If it didn't arrive, please get in touch via the email link on my Blogger profile and I'll send it again.