Last week our cows arrived. We're very excited.
Of course, they aren't actually ours - they're on loan from the local dairy farm as lawnmowers. Apparently they're 'dry cows', eight months pregnant (not for the first time), and just lounging around in the fields waiting for their calves to arrive.
I know pretty much nothing about cows, and am drinking in every little bit of information the farmers are willing to give me. This week I've learned that cows are pregnant for roughly the same time as humans (who knew?), that they won't eat buttercups because they're too bitter, that before they give birth they have sixty days of rest from milking, and that the price the dairy will pay the farmers for milk fluctuates throughout the year.
Sometimes the depths of my ignorance knows no bounds.
Yesterday the farmer dropped by with his young daughter, and I followed them into the fields to check on the ladies. They're surprisingly nimble considering their size, and wouldn't let us anywhere near them.
The young girl was telling me about her pets, and when I said I didn't have any, she said 'well you've got these cows now!' Excellent - I now feel fully justified in giving them names and posting pictures of them on the internet. (Not that we've actually given them names yet...)
For some reason I assumed cows would stay in one field until they'd munched all the grass and then wander to the next, but they don't do anything of the sort, they seem to wander about on a whim, sleeping first in one field, and then in another.
When you think about it, why would they see the fields as separate spaces? Those walls are our boundaries after all, and while they'll keep a cow out, if the gate is open, why wouldn't it go through?
After all, the grass might be greener over there.
We should have calves in around three weeks, and I'm told I won't need to have any involvement in the birthing process, although I'm keeping a close eye out and have the farmer's number just in case. I do feel partly responsible for them (even though technically I'm not at all) and can't help worrying just a little bit.
The cows, of course, have been through it all before and aren't showing the slightest bit of worry.
The sun has come out, and the grass has started growing. We have eleven acres of grassland, and no grazing animals. Matters were starting to get out of hand, so last week I bought a scythe.
Gosh, it is such fun. We're both very taken with it, and have been lopping grass with enthusiasm.
We won't be scything all eleven acres (thank goodness) as our neighbours at the dairy farm have lent us a few cows, who arrived yesterday (this is extremely exciting, and will get a post of its own). What we have been doing though is clearing a space to lay out some beds for growing veg.
I'm trying to learn a bit about some of the grasses and wild flowers as I go along.
These, I believe, are cuckoo flower, or lady's smock, and we have them in abundance. There will be plenty left after I've finished, as I'm only clearing the growing space, not the whole field.
I dug out one small bed to plant my raspberry canes in - and decided instantly to use the no-dig method for the rest of the garden. There are plenty of ways of doing this, but we have an abundance of cardboard boxes, having just moved house, so that's what I'm starting with, followed by compost, and finally a mulch of grass cuttings, as we have an abundance of those too. I'm not sure I'll leave this on once I get plants in, as it's far too tempting for slugs, but for now it's rotting down in place and keeping the ground cosy (we did only get rid of the last of our snow three or four weeks ago, after all).
Some of the grass is going into to make compost, so I don't have to buy any in next year. I always made compost at our old house, in one of those dalek-style bins towards the end, but here we have far more space, and far more garden waste, so I've created three bins, and can already see I might need more.
The one in the middle is filled with dry hay, moved from the floor of one of the outbuildings. The one on the right is food waste from the kitchen, and each time I add some I throw in a handful of hay too. The one on the right I'm layering freshly cut grass and hay, and as it's now full, I'm covering it over and leaving it to rot down.
My auntie bought me this book for my birthday, and it's (obviously) very enthusiastic about compost, and has many good tips. I confess I'm not sure I'll be making the special activator powder advocated by Maye Bruce, but I've already come across some of the herbs she uses in the fields so I might leave them to rot down in a bucket and pour it on. Can't do any harm.
Since the arrival of the lighter evenings, I've found myself heading outside for two or three hours after work, and then wondering why I'm collapsing into bed exhausted. It's not surprising really, two or three hours of wheelbarrowing, scything, walling, digging, on top of a nine hour day at work and two hours of driving would wear anyone out. Fortunately, I get to work at home several days a week, and at the weekends I don't work at all, so there's plenty of sitting about too, especially now the sun has started shining....
We often see the hare running through our fields. The novelty isn't wearing off, and I was especially cheered to see one sitting outside our bathroom window early one morning, having a wash.
My camera can't do it justice, and I find myself wondering about a better one... (although it seems a little extravagant to spend several hundred pounds just to take better photos of a hare).
I tried taking pictures through my binoculars, but that didn't work. Eventually the hare got fed up of me watching it and ran off.
What a glorious weekend we had! This is the view from the little terrace where we eat our breakfast and it has been like being on holiday. A whole weekend of warmth and being outside. Just perfect.
I even started mowing the lawn. I say 'started' because I bought a push mower, and the grass is rather too long, so it's taking a while. I'm hoping the arrival of an Austrian scythe today will speed things up considerably. In the meantime, the grass is at appropriate lying-on levels, and that's just what I spent quite a lot of time doing.
It wasn't all lying around. One morning we went for a little wander round a nearby village,
I even did some work! The people who sold our house hired some people to clear out the garage - which they did by selling what they could and setting fire to everything else. Such a shame - there was so much that we could have used. It seems they started the fire over the top of the overflow to our well (they weren't to realise as it's buried underground), it was polluting the spring feeding the cattle trough in the neighbour's field.
It took me quite a while to dig out the debris, as they'd set fire to all kinds - including glass, metal, ceramics and all kinds of nails. But at last I'd got rid of the residue, although it took a fair bit more digging before I found the top of the well itself. Fortunately, the farmer reckons just removing the fire debris is enough so I can stop digging now. Phew.
While he was here, the farmer had a look at my dry stone walling efforts and pronounced them 'a good start'. High praise indeed! He's going to come and spend an hour walling with me to give me an idea of what I'm meant to be doing (I'm spending too much time trying to get the perfect stone apparently, which is what the guy running the course said...).
My sister was here for a while, and we measured out ready for some veg growing beds, although I'm waiting until I've scythed the field to lay them out properly.
This was taken just as the sun was setting behind the hill at about 8.45pm - it really does get a lot more light than this normally.
My little seedlings are starting to sprout in the greenhouse, although I've lost most of my kale to the mysterious 'damping off' it seems. It feels like I shoud be further along in my growing, but it was only a couple of weeks ago that it was still snowing!
Unhelpfully, the permanent pen I used to label my seedlings has vanished in the sunlight, so now all my seeds are unlabelled mysteries.
This weekend is forecast to be a bit grey and rainy, which is a shame. I'm planning to get some more walling done, plant some more seeds, scythe the field, and lay out my growing beds. Oh, and finally plant out the willow.
Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'm Jenni, and I write here about our new foray into country living, which includes growing food, knitting, baking, wandering around the fields, and seeing which local cafe serves the best cake.