Vegetation, fascination, imagination…..precipitation!

Today I have been totally alone at Riverside. A rare occurrence!

My youngest sproglet has been at a sleepover with her cousins.

ImageDue to this childfree time being such an unusual event I had BIG plans to use this time as productively as possible.

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The plans involved LOTS of outdoor work and gardening and general plot tidying.. and guess what, it has rained hard almost all day!   Sod’s Law!

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It is almost June and  so cold that I have had to light a fire. The cottage was really chilly this morning when I came in from milking Tansy .

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Amongst the jobs that I did complete, in the rain, were the planting out of some young vegetable plants that were in dire need of removing from their pots and trays. I have finished filling up the new wall planter! It will soon fill up as the plants mature and I look forward to having a bit more growing space.The planter replaces a rotten wood fence that fell down in the gusty wind we had the other day. So it is making use of space that was previously unused for growing. Every little helps..as they say 😉

ImageI planted out more baby red cabbages, some kale,both Tuscan Black and a red curly variety that I have forgotten the name of, plus beetroots and bunching onions.

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I earthed up the potatoes again, weeded the pea bed and planted out four courgette plants,that were getting far too big for the large pots they were in.

The hostas and ferns that fill a shady corner here at Riverside have enjoyed the rain today. No slug holes in the hostas yet. Permaculture certainly seems to keep the pest species at bay, as the hardworking hedgehogs and toads that live here keep the slug population under control.

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I have also planted out a variegated thyme, a red bergamot or bee balm, a pineapple mint, which is also variegated and some walking onions!. My first planting of those here! ….and I harvested yet more rhubarb! I am seriously impressed with the crop of rhubarb this year.The mulch of horse manure I gave the young rhubarb  plant last autumn has made a huge difference.

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So all in all a fairly productive day even if I did get wet. But I still have so much to do..

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I have started mulching an area of really overgrown land that runs beside my cottage plot.

I have been using all my spent straw/ hay and goat bedding over the last 6 months or so to deeply cover a completely wild area of thick nettles, grass and other perennial weeds.

Mulching has really helped reduce the nettles and is an ongoing process.

I have also laid some cardboard down to clear a small area ready for a deep bed, of home-made compost but to be totally honest I have a long way to go before it is anywhere near ready and I may just turn the animals out in it, for a month or so, just to eat it down a bit first, before I continue to do anything else out there.

I am feeling a bit despondent that I can’t get it sorted faster. But maybe it is meant to be a slow process, so that I get to work out where I will put plants and so I have time to save up for  the purchase of trees and perennials to fill it!

The weeds are growing faster than I can deal with them on my own  by hand. ..but still the mulching goes on…I won’t give up.

All in all it is about a tenth of an acre. It is set out in a long uneven strip..widening at the bottom as it reaches the slope up to  the riverbank.

Up by the river I aim to plant some willow for goat forage and weaving and so the roots help keep the soil in place.

ImageMy longterm plan is to eventually be able to make a mini forest garden on it.. with a meandering path.. curvy deep beds with fruit trees, underplanted with soft fruit and other edibles.

I want it to be beautiful as well as productive.. but I have a feeling it is going to take me some time to get to that stage.

Luckily I am very patient!

Thanks for reading my random wafflings. It is always a pleasure to get feedback and comments.

I always try to reply to everyone xx

Blessings xx

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The grass is always greener…………….after rain.

Everything is so green and lush and vibrant here now. I am loving it! The recent rain has sent everything into overdrive. Grass in the fields and all my vegetable plants are growing fast! Trees are in full leaf now. Better late than never! There is rich dappled shade to sit under on sunny days. I love that contrast of light and dark.  It is wonderful!

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The grazing, that I rent further up the lane, really needed the boost and the paddocks that I am resting til later in the year are looking lush and healthy at last.

I shall strip graze the paddocks using electric tape to allow the ponies to access a little fresh land each week. Shetlands and other native ponies do not need too much rich grazing. In fact it can be dangerous for them to be allowed too much spring grass, as they tend to be more prone to laminitis….(and mine are right piggies and will scoff and scoff til they bloat!) Both of mine came to me as previous sufferers of ‘lami’ and one has Metabolic Cushings Disease, so I have to be extra vigilant.

By dividing the paddocks off into weekly strips, not only is it a better use of land but it also means the grass gets grazed down evenly and tends to grow better as a result. I can control how much they eat and watch them for signs of weight gain and loss etc. I simply move the posts forward once a week ( with the tape still attached but the energiser turned off) and I ensure they have access to water.

I  have just purchase two secondhand Aquaroll 40 litre water containers, large cylindrical containers that you can roll out to where you need the water..so no heavy buckets to lug across fields. I only need to do this in the middle paddocks luckily,  as both end ones have water containers set under a gutter systems that run off the roof of each shelter and they are self filling every time we have rain. So I rarely need to top those up.

Because two of the paddock areas have large field shelters in them, if we are forecast severe weather the ponies are simply put into those ones and in Winter when the grass is sparse and low in nutrients, the paddocks are only divided in half. That way the ponies always have access to warm stabling  with thick bedding and one paddock is rested completely for 6 months, ready for spring. When it all starts growing again and needs dividing up into smaller areas I simply bring out the electric fencing again..

Seeing as the weather has warmed up now, we are heading towards June after all!…..and the ground has dried out here at Riverside, I have moved my hens back outside onto a new piece of ground. Electric poultry netting gives you so much freedom to rotate your animals grazing areas. I use it for my goats, geese and hens here…and I use electric tape for the pony paddock dividers, the main fencing is post and rail with electric  wire on the inside. It is a great system for those with a small amount of land. Flexible, secure and easy to move.

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One hen (A Pied Sussex named Blackberry) is still in the winter coop, as she has just hatched a clutch of eggs, so she is enjoying some time alone to rear her babies. She will be re-introduced to the flock once the babies are a bit bigger. I am hoping for at least two hens  out of her chicks, ( Sod’s Law will mean they all turn out to be cockerels no doubt haha). We could do with a couple more egg layers here, so fingers crossed.

One chick appears to be a very pretty subtle blue/ grey colour! They are mixed breeds, as the cockerel I ran with the hens this time is a  multicoloured frizzle cross, so we get surprise colouration/ feathering/ shapes and sizes and we like it that way. Hybrid vigour and a hotchpotch of colours!

The wild moorhen that settled here has hatched all her eggs. I haven’t done a proper head count (They are tiny and they move so fast and in all honesty I don’t want to disturb them too much) but it seems I may have got it wrong thinking she had lost some of her eggs before hatch day, as I am sure I have seen at least 5 chicks! They are in the water already..darting about between the reeds and calling for their mum when she strays too far.

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Holly-Hot-Pants my broody goose is still sitting tight on her nest inside the shed, ( no idea how many eggs she has!) with Teasel-Tussle the gander guarding her. I am the only one that can get  anywhere near close enough to feed them, change their water and tidy the shed.. albeit tentatively! I haven’t disturbed the back of the shed where her nest is. I will clean it properly once she is up and about with her babies.

Daisy-Do-Gooder, the other female goose I have here, is being ignored by them both. She seems to be piggy in the middle and appears to be no use to either of them. Poor Daisy! But she remains devoted to Teasel, bless her,  despite being given the cold shoulder and she refuses to be  parted from them even if given the choice.

Marigold my VERY pregnant goat doesn’t have long to go now. Her official due date is in the first week of June..but she is looking HUGE!..and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she popped early. I am hoping for twins or a single kid.Triplets would be a lot for her to cope with, she is a first kidder and I prefer to let the kids feed naturally on their mothers rather than be bottle fed. So two would be more than enough. Hoping for females of course!

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This shared milking system I have used here has worked well with Tansy and her twin kids.  I am still milking every morning and am getting around 1.5 litres a day from her. Not bad  from just one milking session. I am making lots of cheese and yoghurt and kefir and using it in my tea and coffee etc. Even people who tell me they dislike goat’s milk have taken it in tea and coffee when visiting me here and have remarked at how lovely it is.. No goaty tang at all!

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Although despite all this lovely raw milk I have here I am still buying in some organic cows milk, just to culture the kefir grains that I sell online and to experiment with more cheese recipes. Not sure if I’d be allowed to use my raw milk for kefir sales..so I am playing it safe with shop bought stuff for my customers.

I will be doing two milkings a day once the kids are fully weaned, which going by their progress won’t be long, as Tansy is letting them feed less and less and they are happily eating concentrates, plenty of good hay and are grazing/ browsing well outside and they drink plenty of water. Time flies!

My little incubator is still going. I set some duck eggs into it straight after hatching the quail. I just adjusted the humidity for duck eggs ( quail eggs need far lower humidity).

I was hoping for the best really, as these were eggs gifted to me from a neighbour of my parents. She gave them to me to feed to my dogs, as they were past their best and a bit too old for humans to eat.

I risked it and tried my luck with the incubator, having nothing much to lose. I popped them in to see if any were fertile and on day two, disaster!!… we lost power ..So I thought they’d be  well and truly done for. If any were going to be viable then chilling them on day two was probably not the best way to get any to develop! However, miraculously 5 have survived and have continually candled fertile! Amazing! So we shall see what we get from our pot luck, chilled and re-heated, rather old dog food duck eggs.

If we get any at all it will be remarkable!

Sadly during that power outage we lost three quail chicks, as it happened in the middle of the night when we were sleeping and their heat lamp went off. I awoke at 3 am noticing we had no light/power so rushed out to check. I was too late to save them all sadly, as one had died under the huddle of chicks trying to keep warm, but we quickly set the brooder cage in front of the woodstove and got a good fire going and set tea-lights all around it to keep the temperature up til we sorted the power problem out. A day later we were left with 17 healthy chicks from 20 and so not all was lost, but things like this really do get you down.

It was such a shame. My daughter was so upset. She had got up with me at 3 am , helped me move the brooder cage in front of the stove and she had tried everything to revive the tiny floppy cold chick..but her efforts were in vain.

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On a brighter note the veg garden here at Riverside is doing well. No major hitches (yet) this season . I have not grown as many plants that need heat or protection this year, after struggling with some tender plants last season.

I have also given up with growing sweetcorn, after losing three sowings of expensive organic seed last year, to hungry mice! I hope they enjoyed it as much I would have if it had grown and developed cobs haha

I am desperately short of  growing space here ( If I had my way the lawn would go completely! Not sure my landlord would be so keen though) and so the space for things like sweetcorn etc which needs to be grown in blocks for successful pollination, can be used for other things that I know I can grow easily and successfully. I love my leafy greens, garlic, leeks, soft fruit, herbs and salads, so am using the space that I do have for those kind of things…and cramming edibles into every available space. I am also still planting trees on the river bank…Lots of trees.

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I am trying to get more hardy, heavy cropping and perennial edibles in the garden. Dotting them in amongst the flower borders. I am planting out soft fruit  bushes under trees (grown from cuttings)  and then low growing herbs grown from seed and other fruiting  plants like strawberries under and in front of those. Areas between trees have been sown with a wildflower meadow mix…and I am not mowing that area til after it has set seed.

On the subject of mowing, I now mow all my grass with a small push mower. It is leaving a bit more length to the lawn and the other plants that grow in the lawn don’t get decapitated, which is great for bees, as flowers like clover etc are left in place… and is so quiet and easy to use, even on a big plot like this. I am so glad I gave away my two petrol mowers!

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With the weather in the UK ( and worldwide) so unpredictable now and temperatures so slow to warm up each year, I guess growing hardy edible perennials/ annuals is the way forward, if I want to have plenty to eat. Unless you have space for massive polytunnels!

I don’t have a polytunnel yet, in fact I only have a tiny lean to greenhouse here atm (which is a bit too sheltered/shaded), so space for protected crops is severely limited! I aim to fill the garden with stuff I can grow well in our weather and I aim to do all this on a mega tight budget..so plants are mostly grown from seed/ cuttings. Patience is required, with quite some time passing before some plants are mature. So it is a work in progress and maybe something I will never see reach fruition  But half the joy is discovering that something does really well on your plot, especially where other things have failed and in watching them grow steadily, even if you never see the end result.

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Keeping fingers firmly crossed that my tenancy here goes on for a few more years yet. I do so love it here! But with private rental properties you just never know…….

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Moppet makes an appearance.

I don’t usually take my camera out with me when I am milking. Goats and delicate equipment tend not to mix awfully well. Those of you that keep goats will understand. But something today prompted me to take my (borrowed) camera with me.

My camera broke a while ago and I am currently using one that belongs to my parents, until I can afford to replace my one or find one on Freecycle/ Freegle that needs a home.

So anyway, I tucked it into my pocket, inside its protective case for extra protection, and carried on with my early morning rounds.

On my way back inside the cottage, with a pail full of frothy, creamy milk, I always throw a handful of grain into the pond for Mildred. She is the wild moorhen that has chosen to make a nest here.

You can read more about her nest making and egg laying here and here. She laid 6  eggs in total.

As I walked past  today and scattered her grain for her, she hopped off her nest to hide under the ivy until I had passed, as she always does,  and on doing so she revealed one newly hatched chick!! I have named it Moppet. The photo explains why. I am not sure that you could call it beautiful haha! But what a cutie!

See there was a reason I took my camera today!

It looks like there are only two more eggs left in her nest so maybe she discarded some or a rat took them?

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Welcome to the world Moppet and welcome to Riverside.  xxx

If you’d like to  make a donation, no matter how small,  towards my new camera fund, please feel free to do so using the Donate Button.

I love taking photos to share with you all.

Thank you x

~*~*~UPDATE~*~*~

Three chicks now spotted. …and an egg still to hatch!

(Some were hiding in the reeds)

A life full of birdsong and blossom

As I walk quietly towards the milking shed each morning, I am accompanied by a chorus of birdsong, filling the early morning air. The trilling, chirping and warbling of species, unseen, yet still very present here at Riverside, accompany me as I go about my morning routine.

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High above the fields surrounding my cottage, a skylark produces a melody so fluid and harmonious that it flows through my body like liquid gold, making my spirits rise almost as high as the bird itself, barely a distant dot in the still golden sky, way up high. I look up, squinting to see it. Yet despite the distance between us, the song reaches me, in more ways than one.

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A melanistic cock pheasant shimmers. His shades of metallic emerald and deep forest green almost sparkle in the morning light. He flaps out of the hedgerow, panicking when he catches sight of me.  His cackling call “korr kok,  korr kok ” fills the air as he flies away.

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I absorb the scents, sights and sounds around me. Reluctant to go back inside. I store them in my mind to be recalled another day.

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I think our senses become keener when we choose to live closer to nature. We tend to notice the faintest sounds. The smallest rustle in the hedgerow. The merest hint of red in the sky. We grow to ‘know’ the wild creatures that visit us. We are able to identify each thrush, moorhen, squirrel or badger. Inside our minds we have nicknames for them all.  Or at least I do.

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Egromond is a pale olive-green toad that lives here. He shelters under an old  metal feed trough, now used as a planter, and he overwinters in the log shed’s dark, damp corners until Spring.  

Mildred is a moorhen, that currently sits patiently on her clutch of  six pale speckled eggs , set in a nest made of bent flag iris stems, on my wildlife pond. She is skittish and aloof. Her partner, Mervin, resides on the river here but visits her often. He is brave enough to feed under the bird table in full view of me. Mildred never feeds in front of me.  If I happen to get too close to her she shrieks and swears and flits off into the hedgerow, still telling me off at full volume for getting too close, even when she is out of sight.. but she  swiftly returns to her nest as soon I am a safe distance away.

Horace is the hedgehog  that once rolled down the steep slope that leads up to the river bank and surprisingly ( for us both) landed at my feet as I walked up to lock in my hens in one evening.

He is a hardworking hero here..eating all manner of garden pests. I  always make sure there are plenty of leafy and twiggy corners here for him and his family to nest in each winter.

Spirit is the barn owl that silently hunts the banks of the river  and perches on one of the vegetable garden’s fence posts, to eat his catch.  He once did so whilst I was milking Tansy.  His  razor-sharp beak tearing at a flaccid mouse’s body, whilst holding it with talons, curved and deadly, as I was a mere three feet behind him, sitting in the milking shed, as he perched with his soft amber  and grey speckled back facing me. He is INCREDIBLY handsome and I have a feeling he knows it!

……there are many more….and so it goes on. I feel as though I ‘know’ them all.

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Signs of spring are welcomed, rejoiced even, as buds appear, at last!….and then they burst open to reveal blossom, so perfect,  that we pray the rain holds off, at least until the butterflies, bees and other pollinators like the furry little bee flies have a chance to visit and do the most important job of all.

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I have a life full to overflowing with so many ‘treasures’ that I never feel the need to escape or have a holiday. In this day and age, a time of materialism and consumerism, that is a pretty remarkable thing to achieve I think and I have Riverside and ALL the creatures who reside here with me to thank for it  xx

Blessings xxx

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Mildred’s best nest and tantalising trout pouts….

Over the last few days I have been silently observing the comings and goings of a little female moorhen.

She has taken it upon herself to build a nest in amongst the small clump of yellow flag irises in my wildlife pond. This not only poses her the problem of how to go about doing this task and yet remain unseen, but it also means that she is quite a few metres away from the river that runs along one boundary here, her usual home, and the place she usually feeds.

But I have noticed that the duckweed we had in the pond is gradually disappearing, so I am guessing she has been eating that?

Her initial nest remains unfinished and is quite visible to passers-by. I thought she had abandoned the idea of raising her brood, especially as it is so very close to my cottage, but I was wrong.  Mildred, as she will now be known, has made a second nest underneath the overhanging ivy that tumbles down into the pond, on the side nearest to the cottage.

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So it is with bated breath that I creep past every time I go out of the back gate and occasionally I just glimpse a little black feathered bottom disappearing into the hedgerow or under the ivy.

I shall keep you updated as to whether Mildred manages to hatch out any eggs.  Fingers crossed for her.

I will try my best to get some photos and may even set up my daughter’s camera trap this weekend.

The water level in the river here is quite low at the moment. My daughter and I took a stroll down to the little jetty today. It has been a gloriously sunny day and we sat watching the trout rise to catch flies. Their pouty little mouths come right out of the water and swiftly suck in the insects that fly too close to the water’s surface and in a split second the buzzing gnats and mosquitoes become trout dinner.

We have both rainbow and brown trout here. The rainbow trout seem to be the tamest and one bravely swam out from under the jetty whilst we were sitting there today. It’s spotted body was clearly visible and even the soft blush of pink on its sides could be seen! Beautiful!

Insect life is gradually increasing here at Riverside now that the weather has warmed up a bit. We spotted yet more butterflies today. Two peacock butterflies, a vibrant neon brimstone, a small white (in my greenhouse) and a red admiral…..and LOTS of bees, both honeybees and bumblebees, which REALLY made me smile!

Some thirsty honey bees had inadvertently fallen into the river and were floating on the surface,  as we sat watching the fish rise, and so my daughter hooked them out with her little net and laid them in the grass to dry out. They lived to see another day.

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Being grateful…

I aim to find something to be grateful for every single day…

Today I am grateful for sunshine, especially as at 7 am this morning we had snow!

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I am grateful for healthy, happy, lively, ever so bouncy goat kids. They make me smile with their prancing and leaping.

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I am so grateful for all the times that I see our local barn owl, hunting the paddocks, my garden and along the river here, and I am especially grateful that today I managed to get a few photos of him/her, albeit fuzzy ones.  Sorry for the poor quality but I do not have a telescopic lens.

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I am grateful that my fabulous Mum has lent me her camera, after my one decided to die two days ago. Thanks Mum!

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I am grateful to share my life with my lovely dogs, cats and other animals and to be able to live so close to a nature reserve, where I get to see all manner of wildlife..

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I am grateful for my amazing family, my three wonderful children and for my kind and compassionate friends.

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SO MUCH to be grateful for!

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Can you spot the barn owl?

What are you grateful for today?