19/6/2019 Last time I looked it was April: I’m not sure where this spring has disappeared to. I have been willing it to rain so that the irises in my rapidly drying pond might have the chance to flower before the goats ate them all. My wishes were in vain: but somehow a few flowers managed to escape their jaws nevertheless. The rain came too late for the irises, but the vegetables and fruits are thankful, as am I, for having far less watering to do than last year. And for the absence of moral dilemmas: my water butts are being filled regularly, so the hose is rarely called for.
After a slow start with bookings, this spring has been all about B&B, vegetable gardening and music, to the neglect of my new bathroom which has been waiting several months to be painted. But that is a winter job, and it will just have to wait: I have learnt that ruthless prioritising is the only way forward in spring. Meanwhile, the vegetable beds were mended and cleared in February with the help of a friend, and I finally got round to repairing, cleaning and goat proofing the greenhouse – only two years late. So both are in full green swing, prompted and encouraged by my friend Steve, who has been passing on spare seeds and plants and acting as my vegetable growing consultant. ‘What do I do about the potatoes which have been squashed by a crow that got stuck in the vegetable enclosure?’ ‘Will my Brussel sprouts recover after having nearly all their leaves broken off?’ (The rabbits and goats were happy with their dinner after that mishap.)
Meanwhile Dusty and Malteser have been specialising in cuteness; Winnie the Wood Pigeon is as gorgeous as ever and will soon celebrate her 2nd birthday; the goats took full advantage of their one opportunity (and I shall ensure it is their last) to break into the beautifully fenced rhubarb bed and leave a scene of devastation behind them; and my new rescue chickens, Cheeky and Monkey (Monkey is below centre) – no need to say more – have settled into Crossways Farm life as though they never knew anything else.
19/9/2018 It has been a busy and fun summer, full of sunshine, B&B guests, church concerts, animal happenings and house improvements…
The two most important events that have happened this season are, first, the arrival of Dusty and Smudge, two gorgeous and soft rabbits. Dusty is a Lionhead, like Dexter (though with more upright ears), and Smudge is a Mini Lop. They cannot replace Dexter, who is still deeply missed, but they are a great joy and comfort. After a few weeks of rabbit withdrawal, and sure that I’d find no other rabbit that would match up to Dexter, I thought perhaps I might just go and meet a few rescue rabbits and then make up my mind.
Dusty and Smudge, then called Pippa and Jasmine, were the first two rabbits I met. ‘I won’t be taking them home,’ I told the volunteer at the rescue, ‘I’m only coming to meet them’. But before I left I had reserved them and told her I’d be back the next day to collect them.
18/6/2018 It has been a good spring, despite its late arrival. After a wet and boggy start, leaving everyone desperate for sunshine, its end is dry and sunny, leaving everyone (with a garden) desperate for rain. Some rain would indeed be welcome, but guests, creatures and I are having no trouble at all appreciating the good weather…
This season has had many highlights. To mention just a few, we have welcomed four new cuddly ratties (Badger’s relatives) and four new chickens, who have settled in well and are laying beautiful eggs. There were one or two adventures at the start due to my forgetting to have their wings clipped before I brought them home. It took me nearly two days and a fair bit of neighbourly detective work to track down one of the girls who had made her way to someone’s garden down the road after the goats frightened her over the shed roof…
I also had a friend to stay last week for a two-and-a-half day intensive gardening session. In that time we managed to transform a cage full of weeds back into a fruit cage and raised beds planted with courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, kale and tomatoes. I still have to check regularly to make sure I’m not imagining it! Thank you to my friend Gina for all her hard work and weeding enthusiasm.
The second year of my church project began as I hope it will continue: with cello, churches, chickens and a quite a few laughs.
While I was practising the cello at home, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration.
‘I’ve just come up with the most inspired excuse yet to get more chickens’, I texted my friend Jo.
You may be wondering what chickens have to do with cellos, or churches for that matter. The answer is quite a lot, if I have anything to do with it. But before I continue, a few pieces of background information may be required. The first is that my ‘creature maths’ is notorious for roughly observing the pattern of the Fibonacci sequence: if one chicken dies, no fewer than two new ones are needed to compensate for the loss. The second is that my friend Jo is the reason I started keeping chickens; third, she is a bishop; and fourth, she christened my three trousered and ridiculously fluffy-bottomed Brahma chickens Knicker, Bocker and Glory. (Photo right: foreground, a Glorious bottom; background left, white chicken with black tail: Bocker; background far right, grey chicken: Knicker)
My explanation to Jo continued: ‘I use the coins from my egg sales to leave donations in the churches I visit, and I keep running out of coins. I need a more constant supply of coins = I need a more constant supply of surplus eggs to sell = I need more chickens. How about that for good maths!’
5/3/2018 The creatures and I are happy to report that, after an uncertain start, this winter has been a vast improvement on last year’s, despite several spells of icy and snowy weather which at times has dissuaded even the chickens from going in the garden – but they have gradually got braver!
Since welcoming friends from Spain on Christmas Eve, the season has been, on the whole, a positive one. It got off to a good start: we, the humans, had our first experience of a Boxing Day picnic. Dexter the rabbit had his first experience of an open fire, and soon made it clear that he didn’t see any sense in ever leaving the fireside. Winston the wood pigeon looked on jealously through the sitting room window, so I relented and gave him his own short spell of indoor warmth-bathing…
21/1/2018 Most of my chickens are hybrids, bred to lay eggs all year round – except for a few days or weeks here and there, when they are moulting, broody, or think it’s too cold and dark to consider such a thing. They generally lay slightly fewer eggs in winter, but I still have a daily supply.
I have a few pure breed chickens that are less regular in their laying habits, however; and two of them – called Cream Legbars – lay blue eggs. They are just over two years old, and each year they have stopped laying in September or October. I was mighty disappointed the first time they didn’t lay a single egg the rest of the year. I had no idea when they would start laying again – my best guess was early spring – but this year I was better informed. I hadn’t made a note of the date, but I thought it was roughly around the end of January to the middle of February.
4/9/2017 This summer brought a record of 5 broody chickens all at once, causing egg-laying traffic jams, and challenged me to find an effective way to persuade them they were wasting their time (Dexter the rabbit had to rent out his pen for a few days). Apart from this, however, Dexter the Rabbit and Winston the Wood Pigeon (occasionally referred to as Winnie in case he’s a girl), have been having by far the most adventures this season. They are considering starting their own newspaper column, or perhaps clubbing together to write a children’s book… So I am handing over to them!
30/5/2017 Spring started early this year, and then thought better of it. The first ducklings in the garden hatched in the first week of April, the day after I spotted the first swallows of the season, at least two weeks earlier than usual. Bluebells in south Suffolk were already putting on an impressive show by Good Friday, with a cuckoo joining in the celebrations; and the cow parsley was in flower well before the end of April. But the weather reverted back to winter around Easter and everything was put on hold. Even the ducklings disappeared after a week and I’ve seen no more since.
Strangely, I didn’t mind in the slightest. I am always wishing that spring would hang on just a little bit longer… and this year my wish came true. If the price to pay is cold weather, I think I’m happy with the trade-off. Though perhaps my guests weren’t. By the time the hawthorn blossom appeared in the hedge, bang on time on the 1st of May, there were still daffodils out by the front pond.
‘There’s an art to the business of wintering. It’s a time to revel in the muddier waters of human emotion and to hibernate magnificently. It’s not just the trees, shorn of flowers and leaves and berries, who turn inward.’ (Jini Reddy, in Winter: An anthology for the changing seasons)
6/3/2017 I was comforted and amused to happen across this declaration on winter just two days ago: the idea of it being possible to describe hibernation as magnificent gives a retrospective, dignified sparkle to my spectacularly unproductive winter.
Although I am a firm follower of the astronomical calendar, in which the equinox marks the start of spring (luckily for me, as I am rather later than intended with my winter newsletter), this year I have decided to claim the best of both worlds. Having seen out February with a stomach bug followed by a friend’s funeral – which pretty well sums up the intervening months since the autumn newsletter – I have never been so happy to greet the first of March, and with it a concrete promise of the approach of spring, as well as a much welcome relaxation of the bird flu-related poultry-keeping restrictions. The chickens suffered their confinement patiently but raucously!
31/10/2016 I have Wyken Vineyards to blame for my addiction to Brahma chickens, amongst other things. I first saw them in the orchard at Wyken Hall, along with peacocks, turkeys, guinea fowl and other chicken breeds. I couldn’t stop laughing: when they walked (read: waddled) or ran, they reminded me of somewhat overweight matronly housekeepers in full 19th century gear. Ridiculously fluffy, heavy chickens with trousers on. ‘I absolutely have to have some of those!’ excluded all other thoughts, and the search began that evening.
It is my favourite Suffolk garden open to the public, and not only because of the animals. It is a beautiful place, and one for dreaming in, which I have only lately come to realise is an indispensible element of my life. £12* is no price at all to pay for a season of inspiration and unlimited dreaming opportunities…