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.
13/1/2018 By the front pond is a giant crack willow. The tree is magnificent; and its magnificence is greatest in winter. The twigs turn bright orange and its luminous canopy is the highlight of my garden on a sunny winter’s day. I watch it with curiosity every spring, thinking, surely its twigs can’t actually change colour; it must be an illusion created by the branches becoming gradually invisible beneath the growing leaves. But I swear that as soon as the buds start to break, the twigs lose their glow.
Friends and tree surgeons have all expressed their concerns about this tree and have urged me to either have it cut down completely, or pollarded. One large branch has already snapped off, a few years ago in a gale, and every time a new storm arrives I go outside the next morning to check it is still in one piece. Pollarding is a more acceptable option to me (in any case, cutting it down ‘completely’ would only turn it into a labour-intensive coppice), but despite the perennial anxiety it causes me, I cannot yet bring myself to lay a hand on its splendour.
‘Ought not winter, in allegorical designs, the rather to be represented with such things that might suggest hope than such as convey a cold and grim despair? The withered leaf, the snowflake, the hedging bill that cuts and destroys, why these? Why not rather the dear larks for one? […] Put the lark then for winter, a sign of hope, a certainty of summer. Put, too, the sheathed bud […] Put, too, the sharp needles of the green corn […] Nothing despairs but man.’
Richard Jeffries, ‘Out of Doors in February’, in The Open Air (1885).
30/12/2017 When autumn approaches, I find myself thinking frequently about the season, and often in the context of oncoming winter. Sometimes these thoughts get as far as turning into writing. And yet I rarely write about winter itself. By the time winter arrives, my struggle with the changing seasons seems to have come to an end, and along with it, my imagination. Last year I bought Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons, and started it before autumn had even got underway, in an effort to embrace the coming season. I did the same with the winter anthology; and yet, less than a quarter of the way through the book, I stopped reading it and didn’t pick it up again before spring arrived. Though I may yet do so for different reasons, I felt no urge to buy the spring or summer anthologies: my emotional and imaginative engagement with those seasons hardly needs encouragement.
2/12/2017 Autumn began in a promising manner. On the equinox I boarded a train down to Cornwall for a holiday, and returned home two weeks later with some important resolutions: more writing and more walking. Felicity and Ilo (the goats) and the ratties all made their own resolutions: more mischief and more food. Dexter the rabbit decided on more relaxation. (They tell me it’s all about work-life balance). Winston the wood pigeon’s resolutions were to grow all his adult feathers and stay firmly at home – preferably sitting on my head – and the chickens, generally the most amenable of my fluffy friends except where broodiness is concerned, decided that a moult was the best solution to the problem of summer coming to an end. I am pleased to report that all of the Crossways Farm residents’ resolutions are either complete or still being followed religiously.
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!
My church trips seem to bring luck. On several occasions I have found, heard or seen new things before leaving home, or on the journey. Today it was newts: I caught sight of one in the front pond as I was opening the driveway gate, the first since I had found two in the flowerbed wall more than eighteen months ago. A Sainsbury’s delivery driver had spotted another one crossing the same driveway after dark last autumn. He thought it was a lizard, but I knew it was a newt.
This excitement of course delayed my departure: I had to make sure I wasn’t mistaken, and watch for a while to see if there was more than one, and whether I could tell which kind of newts they were. After half an hour or so, I had spotted four newts in one little sunny patch near the edge of the pond. At least one of them was a great crested newt. I am hopeful this small sample area indicates a healthy breeding population.
‘… and even now […] the summer mead shines as bright and fresh as when my foot first touched the grass. It has another meaning now; the sunshine and the flowers speak differently, for a heart that has once known sorrow reads behind the page, and sees sadness in joy. But the freshness is still there, the dew washes the colours before dawn. Unconscious happiness in finding wild flowers – unconscious and unquestioning, and therefore unbounded.’
Richard Jeffries, ‘Wild Flowers’ in The Open Air (1885) p.36
8/7/2017 I have a new-found appreciation for thistles: they flowered just in time to teach me a lesson. The day before Steve was due to arrive with his strimmer, I saw that the thistles, towering above my head and taller than I remember them in previous years, were covered in more bumblebees and butterflies than I have seen gathered together anywhere this year. The thistles were crowding over the path, so I would have to have them cut back a little for the welfare of paying guests, but otherwise, I decided, wherever they were not causing trouble, they were staying.
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.
16/3/2017 I always put off the first lawn mowing of the season. It is a fine balance between the joy of welcoming in the new season and banishing the garden’s winter scruffiness, and the danger of mowing too soon when the boggy areas around the pond will be turned into a muddy mess by any attempt to drive the ride-on mower over them, even without using the cutter or sweeper.
But I don’t deceive myself: laziness plays a larger part in the delay. There is preparation work to be done, clearing fallen branches and twigs, removing mole hills and attempting to flatten the endless tunnels under the grass so as not to slice off the surface altogether. And one or two false starts are usually involved: always a flat battery, sometimes a flat tyre, and sometimes I have forgotten to fill up the petrol cans.
Now that having guests makes a tidier garden an imperative, I seem to have finally learnt my lesson and remembered to prepare the mower in good time. A few days of mild and sunny weather have dried out the lawn sufficiently, and the large fallen cedar has just been cleared, so I choose this afternoon to begin my battle with the industrious moles.