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Month: May 2013

Foraging Fun

Foraging Fun

After what has felt like an age of rain and mud we finally saw a break in the weather over the weekend and Monday dawned bright, dry and beautifully warm.  The perfect day to go foraging!

One of our homeschool friends had arranged a wonderful outing to meet Amber Westfall, a foraging expert and enthusiast.  We met at a local community garden (I love those places!) but it was the bounty of the hedgerows that we were exploring rather than the veg patch, and what a bounty it was.

foraging-8965foraging-8967foraging-8970It was wonderful to explore the powerful medicine locked within these oft maligned plants; the magical milk in a dandelion that can heal a wart, the immediate healing brought by a burdock leaf or the cleansing strength of a cup of nettle tea.

Since I left my home in England I’ve often felt sad at my lack plant recognition, my knowledge of the wild hedgerows I grew up in has been replaced by uncertainty and a little sadness.  To know the plants of a place is to know the place itself, to fully belong to it and it to you.  After an hour with Amber (and with plans to attend her wild walks in the future) I feel that a little piece of that has been restored to me.

foraging-8968foraging-8969foraging-8971foraging-8980As we explored the simple boundaries of the public pathways criss crossing a beautiful urban oasis, we used all our senses to connect to nature.  Amber invited us to taste, touch, smell and learn as we came to know the names and properties of what are often called weeds and destroyed without thought.  She gave us suggestions for making a plantain salve or a burdock coffee, stung herself with nettles and then healed herself with burdock. She made it all seem mundane and magical at the same time, the everyday magic that surrounds us without us knowing it.

foraging-8974 foraging-8972foraging-8985The next morning, after breakfast, Stephen challenged the boys to find 5 different kinds of flowers from the field outside, they bolted out and soon returned with hands full of their wild harvest.  It filled me with joy to be able to identify many of the plants and we spend half an hour looking up the ones we didn’t recognise.

As I walked Winnie that afternoon I noticed more than I have before, I saw plants that I could now name and that have uses in my mind.  I mulled over the possibility of a roll on plantian tincture and rejoiced when I confirmed that the patch of nettles growing over the burned out barn are indeed the most nutritious and edible kind.

I had always planned to spend the summer exploring and journalling our land with the boys but now there is an added dimension of excitement, knowing that there is a wild harvest just waiting to be discovered, waiting to be used.  It’s such a pleasure to know more about this place we live and to feel even more connected to the land, this bountiful place we call home.

Farm Boys

Farm Boys

I often wonder what the boys will make of their childhood when they look back as adults.  Their experiences are so different from those I grew up with, I can’t imagine how it will colour their view of the world.  I sometimes worry that they are missing out on playing with neighbourhood kids, the normal experiences of walking to school or roller skating on the pavement outside that I took for granted.

What is normal to them, climbing hay bales instead of play structures, helping out on the farm, hunting for strange treasures in nature, would seem very old fashioned and alien to many children these days.  But this is what we have chosen for them, this life of growing and working with rarely a dull moment.

farm boys-8880 farm boys-8895 farm boys-8905My dream is that the boys will grow up feeling strong and capable, that they will have learned skills in childhood that I am still trying to master.  I hope that they will be confident and healthy, full of enthusiasm for life and nature.  Of course I worry, I worry that they will remember a life of constant work, that we don’t take enough time for leisure, that we didn’t do enough ‘fun’ things.  I worry that their memories won’t match the high hopes I have for them.

farm boys-8924farm boys-8898But then I watch them spend a full day out on the farm, spending time with their Daddy and our neighbours who have come to help us get this place into shape.  I watch them try to work alongside men who’s goal in life is to shape the land and live from it.  I see them absorb the notions of hard work and stewardship without a word being spoken.

I know that their life, though far from removed from the modern world, is located on a path less travelled.  They don’t watch network tv or go to school, they have no idea what the latest gadgets are but they can tell me if something isn’t right with a chicken.  I know it will make them a bit unusual but, that too, is what I want for them.  I want them to live a life that they believe is right, not just one that is convenient.  But then I worry again, that this is a lesson that may be hard for them down the road as they try and find their place in the world.

Then I come into the kitchen and see this,

farm boys-8917Apple blossom and wild flowers gathered from the crab apple tree outside the house and the fields we walk every day.  A note written by loving boys who just want to make their Mummy smile.  When I see this, done just out of love, I think we can’t be doing so badly after all.

Pigs in training

Pigs in training

There is something about these little boy pigs that we have right now that reminds me of, well, little boys.  A bit naughty, definitely unruly, impatient for dinner and capable of moments of exceptional cuteness that make any naughtiness seem a distant memory.  I’m loving their little pink noses, there silly white feet and their abundant curiosity at everything.  The pigs I mean, though I suppose the same applies to the boys!

This weekend (in the middle of an impending storm no less) Stephen and I strung up the electric fencing in the pig nursery, to help those little digging, prodding, chewing and running cuties learn that the fence is where they have to stop.  They had already attempted some tunnelling under the regular fencing so we knew it was time to bring in the big guns.

pigs-8904 pigs-8907 pigs-8908 pigs-8909The snuffly ones soon learned that the wires are to avoided, meaning that we can now look at putting them out onto lovely green pasture within the next week.  I can’t wait to see them rooting, digging and trotting about in the tall, rich green grass that is growing ever more abundant in the spring sunshine. The days of wallows, scratches and garden treats are ahead, what could be better than that?

Chick Report

Chick Report

Oh they grow up so fast these days don’t they?  One moment they are teeny little bundles, so sweet and unknowing, then next moment they are living in a specially made shed in their own bit of the field.

I’m talking, of course, about chicks.  This year we’ve been able to get our birds out onto pasture earlier than ever as we now have a specially fenced ‘chick zone’ that is protected and set up just for them.

chicks-8910 chicks-8912 chicks-8914When chickens are still small like this, in fact just ‘feathering out’ and losing their baby fluff, they are at risk from the bigger girls who are likely to attack them.  So keeping them in sight but not physically accessible is really important.  These girls will replace the older members of our laying flock who will move on to new homes and lives on other farms sometime in the fall.

This year we’ve mixed it up a bit, based on our experiences of different chickens that we’ve raised up and bought this year.  We’ve got a nice mix of Barred Plymouth Rocks (heritage, very hardy), Rhode Island Reds (another hardy heritage breed) and some Black Sexlinks (a new breed but excellent layers) and they are already enjoying life on the farm.  I have to admit  I really enjoy the Gulliver like feeling I get when I go from the big girls to the teeny ones, darting about amongst bushes that look like ginormous trees in comparison to these mini chicks.  They may be growing bigger each day, and enjoying the life of scratching, eating and exploring that nature designed them for, but right now they are still our teeny, feathery babies.



It’s Monday already and I’m not entirely sure how the weekend went by in such a blur.  But go by it did, in fact it whizzed by.  It was a busy one, filled with celebrating (it was a certain chaps mumblemumble birthday) and learning, working and planning, reorganising and just plain cleaning up.

Monday-8891 Monday-8892 Monday-8903Monday-8902In preparation for the new bees coming (hopefully in the next week) we spent Friday night cleaning out the beehive boxes ready for the new occupants.  We took the extra honey out giving us a bit of a surplus that might even been put to brewing purposes…I’ll keep you posted.

Stephen attended a great tech transfer course on Saturday so he’s all fired up and ready to beekeep as the new season springs fully into life.  It’s great to see him all inspired and full of plans, even nicer to know that he’s the one doing all the actual bee work and not me!  While I’m happy to work my processing mojo on anything Stephen brings into the house I’m a tad nervous of our buzzing friends, they are wonderful and marvellous as long as they are a little way off from where I am standing.

Sunday was spent partly relaxing and having a nice Mothering Sunday time of it and partly working really hard on all the farm stuff that needed doing.  There were chickens to clean out, coops to move, new pasture to be opened up, electric fences to string and animals to be looked after.  Despite the weather taking an extremely gusty turn we got it all done in time to enjoy a delicious home grown and home cooked chicken stew.  Bliss.

Monday-8888 Monday-8890Last night was more than cold enough to warrant a fire so Stephen got one going and we all snuggled up cosily.  Once Neirin was in bed I got on the sofa with Huwyl, my special quilt (a beautiful hand made birthday gift from my sister) and a fun book, ready for a quiet night.  But fate played her hand of course and, after doing his final rounds, Stephen came in from the cold with a meat chicken who looked to be on his last legs.

It may seem odd to care for an animal that is intended for slaughter but our whole mission with the farm is to give the animals the best quality of life we can before than moment comes.  So I duly snuggled the frozen little chap under my quilt with me and hoped for the best.  Not too long after little peeps started emanating from my freezing little friend, letting me know that he was still in the land of the living, thank you very much.  The fire and the quilt had worked their magic and we all sat quietly reading, enjoying each other’s company and the occasional peeping of the little bird.

Huwyl fell asleep on the sofa next to me, twitching occasionally when the peeping got a bit louder.  I tucked the quilt around him, made with love by my beautiful sister and he soon fell back to snoozing, the chick following suit, snuggling against me in the quiet evening of a busy day.  The fire burned on into the night, long after we were tucked up in bed, keeping us all warm and safe even as we dreamed.


Piggles 2013

Piggles 2013

On Saturday we set off into the wide blue sky to purchase three little piggles that will be living with us for the next few months.  We had seen pictures but really nothing can prepare you for the cuteness of a naughty, snuffly, black and white piggle.

piggles 2013-8864 piggles 2013-8865 piggles 2013-8868

As you may have noticed these are not exactly the same breed of pigs we had last year.  Last year we went with Large Black pigs from a local farming friend, but he told us at slightly short notice that he had no pigs for us this year, disaster!

Luckily we were able to find the breeder of these beautiful Berkshire pigs, still a rare and heritage breed and they may well have more piglets in the fall that we can raise up for breeding.  I have to admit these little guys have captured my heart, they are so full of curiosity and sparkle, the thought of breeding more of them in the future fills me with delight.

piggles 2013-8870 piggles 2013-8873 piggles 2013-8875For now these gorgeous bundles are housed in what we refer to as the ‘isolation area’, a fenced area within the main chicken pasture.  It’s not too large so they can feel safe but certainly not too small either.  They will remain in there while we build the new summer pasture and summer housing for our laying flock, when they move out the boys will move into the main chicken pen (which is fenced but we’ll also add electric fencing for extra security!) and rotate it for us.  When they are done we’ll reseed to renew the pasture for the chickens next year.

As well as being fantastic providers of meat pigs really are such a huge asset to any farm.  They turn earth, fertilise it and renew it for the following spring, their gifts to us are many.  In return we aim to give them the best life we can, yummy food, plenty of fresh air and sunshine, wallows for hot days and fresh straw beds for the cooler ones.

Now that we have these little guys to look after (as well as new meat birds, baby chicks and even some ready to lay girls en route) things are getting busier on this farm of ours.  Spring and even summer seem to have simultaneously sprung keeping us moving and busy throughout the day.  Fernwood Farm is full of life once more, just the way we like it.



Today we have mostly been…

Today we have mostly been…

Planting tomato seeds…

may fun-8828 may fun-8830building forts…

may fun-8825attending cookery school with Daddy (and making dinner to boot!)

may fun-8823 may fun-8824may fun-8831getting chickens (big and small) onto the green pasture that is leaping out of the earth all around us…

may fun-8832 may fun-8834looking up at the sky and seeing what we can spot…

may fun-8835 may fun-8838taking an evening stroll down by the pond…

may fun-8841 may fun-8844What better way to end a day than that?






The Sun (and my boys) Has His Hat On

The Sun (and my boys) Has His Hat On

When Stephen and I were shaping our first ever grown up garden we really didn’t know what we were doing.  We bought a load of plants and then sort of stood there looking at them.  When we started potting them up I started telling Stephen he was doing it wrong, indignant he replied “I thought you didn’t know what you were doing!” and neither had I.  But when we began the work I suddenly knew what to do, years of watching my parents garden had taught my hands what to do.

The shining sun beckoned outside today and though we are not quite ready to start our full scale farm veggie plot, I thought it would be lovely for the boys and I to create a little basket for the front step, something colourful to welcome Daddy home with at the end of the day.

sun-8810 sun-8811 sun-8812 sun-8813

A million bells and some geraniums made a lovely and colourful splash on the front step and got me planning and plotting for some more raised beds filled with colourful flowers all summer long. Much as I love my veggies I’m longing for some softer elements this year, petals and scents to tint the heated summer air.

sun-8819sun-8818 sun-8817I hope that when the boys are planting their first gardens, their hands will find their way naturally to the dirt and seeds, programmed by years of happy gardening alongside their Mummy and Daddy.  If I would wish anything for them it would be this, to know the joy of dirty nails and green leaves, to feel the pull of the earth in the spring sunshine.