One each end and steady as we go

I feel like I've given the impression that this place has a song by Bernard Cribbens or Terry Scott as its soundtrack, so I'll try to compensate with at least some small measure of reportage from the frontline of Otter Farm. And I promise not to refer to reproductive organs once.

Amidst all this rain, perhaps two days to get the tractor out and cut the grass. This isn't good. English Garden are here next week to take pictures that may well reveal acres of docks and scrappy grass. Admittedly that's how it looks for the other 364 days of the year, but if TV is allowed 'constructed reality' then so am I. Unless it's too wet to be able to pull a fleece of orderliness over the place, obviously.

And wet it has been. Walking about last night I got wet to the undies. I had a waterproof coat on but as well as keeping my top half dry, it meant I got superwet legs, and I'm guessing osmotic pull compelled the water to spread, against gravity, upwards and inwards.



I came in, lit a fire, took a couple of beers out of the fridge. I intend to do the same tonight. I'm spending the evening reading a few catalogues pondering next year's new orchards and the ones and twos that will add to the place. This is all autumnal behaviour. It feels like Autumn. The apples aren't far off and the sloes are starting to turn purple.



The year seems to be accelerating. As Charles Bukowski so beautifully put it, the days run away like wild horses over the hills

Not for those easily offended....

Today Trent showed me his cock and balls.

Apologies for the lack of euphemism, but given that this is a farm and therefore specialises in food and plants I thought 'meat and two veg' or 'twig and berries' might be a touch misleading. Similarly, 'spam javelin' and 'love truncheon' were dismissed on the grounds that they refer only to part of the collection displayed by my transatlantic colleague.

And besides, I wanted to convey a little of the shock I experienced.



Rest easy, he didn't mean to, but it was still a shock.

Run he shouted as he reentered the polytunnel.
I ran.
Why am I running?
Wasps
Ok
I carried on running.
80 metres away we stopped.
I pretended not to breathe heavily.
What happened?

Trent had been tipping another barrowload of weeds that we'd pulled up from the floor of the flooded polytunnel. on to the compost bin behind the polytunnel.

He'd been doing it all day, but only now somehow disturbing the rather sizeable wasps nest therein. I don't seem to be having much luck with our winged friends this summer.

Jeees, that was close, I was lucky to get away with th AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH ....bastard bastard bastard

A wasp must have latched on to Trent's clothes and allowed him to take it for a run while it used the few moments to force its sting through what must be the fairly dense weave of Trent's favoured canvas work trouser. But find a way through it surely had. Half way up his leg, give or take. He started to hop around (Trent, not the wasp) in obvious pain shouting 'get off you bastard' loud and long. It got worse. Not only could he not get at the sting, it seemed like wasp had actually found a way into his strides. Down came the lower garments. He carried on with the repeated 'get off you bastard's, but was now also slapping himself amidships trying to kill, stun or otherwise disarm the little bugger. I should mention that Trent's had rather large boots on, so his clothes were gathered at his ankles, making the simple act of staying on his feet rather problematic, never mind while trying to slap the wasp senseless at the same time as not permanently damaging his organs of reproduction. I flapped around behind him, not knowing quite how to help while also hoping to remain unstung.

Since the age of 12 or so, whenever I've been presented with the sight of the male organs I can't help but point and shout 'It's like a cock only smaller'. Sad but true. This time however, I was rather more concerned by how this scene might look from the dozen or so houses that overlook the field. Slowly the full horror dawned on me: they....couldn't....see....the....wasp. What they would see was a man with his trousers down, appearing to be country dancing around the field, slapping at his mid-region, genitals swinging in the breeze, shouting 'get off you bastard' while being chased by me with outstretched arms. It didn't take me long to figure that this may not be doing much for my standing in the local community.

I pushed him with rather indecent haste into the other polytunnel, where I was tempted to turn the hose on him in any attempt to water cannon the little jasper off and bring this sorry saga to a close. He displayed an impressive grasp of Anglo-Saxon in requesting me not to, which was fortunate as I'd forgotten that the opaque plastic side of that polytunnel was wound down, exposing the full scene to the neighbours through the ventilation netting. I'm not sure that being seen hosing down a semi-naked American with a shaven head and a goatee beard would've been anymore easily explainable than the outdoor scene to those blackballing me at the village fete.

Think I'll go for a walk out back with the wife in a minute, arm in arm. And maybe drive the tractor about a bit, do some wood chopping, that sort of thing.



(The irrelevant pic is a cabbage thistle)

What a marvellous stroke that was....

It's nice to feel like a man. I don't mean 'feel like a man' in the making-an-order-in-a-restaurant kind of a way, no, but as in feeling quintessentially male. I don't need to feel consciously like a man too often, and I certainly don't dress in big boots and lumberjack gear, call people 'buddy' or force myself to lift weights even though it's boring. The feeling arrives not from trying to drink my own bodyweight in sherry and newcastle brown as once it might (this being more a function of my bodyweight at the time than any attempt to drink much). I don't even like Formula 1 (it sounds like it's a baby feed for a reason).



But when that feeling comes along, I find scratching that residual primeval itch is quite a quiet pleasure.

A month or two back I delivered the eulogy at Winchester Cathedral at the funeral for both of a very lovely friend's parents. It's exactly the sort of thing I'd like to be able to do well but let the formality and the unadlibability of the occasion make me madly nervous. I could have dodged doing it but I did it, which was hugely important to me, and I think I did it well. In some strange way I walked out every so slightly, ever so quietly, more of a man than I went in. This doesn't happen much when you're not 20 anymore. I was rather nice, I have to confess.

I had that feeling a couple of years ago - it came when I got a tractor. And today, when the vineyard sprayer arrived, I had that feeling again. Not because of the sprayer itself - although it is mighty fine and rather grown up - but (and this is truly truly sad I know) because I'd organised to have it haulaged here. Haulage is for men, everybody knows that.



It's starting to occur to me that perhaps too much of me is still aged 7, laughs too long and too hard at farts, and perhaps shouldn't do a really poor impersonation of Richie Benaud at the TV when watching the cricket, even (especially) when I'm home alone.

In case you're wondering, the other pic is of the first Szechuan peppercorns of the summer starting to ripen.

Unbeknownst to me

....there was a rather good article about growing in the face of climate change featuring Otter farm and the Agroforestry Research Trust in last weekend's Telegraph

And for no relevant reason, here's a picture of a Nepalese raspberry....rather tasty they are too

Oddment

I guess you should expect the odd oddment out of 3500 of anything, and this vine is certainly that.

Big, sharply pointed leaves....



early flowers....



and now early grapes forming, while the most vigorous and what we thought was the earliest grape we have is still getting on with the business of flowering

Walkabout

When you've got 17 acres, other jobs that take you away from your land, and a family you learn to accept that you'll only have so much time to spend on each orchard, veg patch or polytunnel. This isn't all bad - the upside is you get to see significant changes rather than miss them in the gradual shift from A to B. I'm at River Cottage HQ only once or twice a week, so I notice when someone's had their hair done. I sound like my gran - 'hair done' indeed. Anyway, you pick up on changes (and in the case of spotting hair having been done, gain considerable points from the ladies *licks finger and smooths down eyebrow*)

Where was I....yes, the climate change allotment. I haven't had a proper look around it for a week or more, and there's a few peaches from the dwarf tree, a handful of Moroccan mint and one of the more fascinating sights that the allium family can display - the fabulously mobile Egyptian walking onion.



Emerging early in Spring, they flower, and produce small bulblets at the end of metre-long stalks. Each bulblet is a tiny onion, and each collection of bulblets can throw out a new stalk from which another bulblet cluster forms. The bulblets grow too heavy for the stalks to hold up, and slowly they bend to the ground where the bulblets take root and grow new onion plants, hence the name. A self expanding, self transporting harvest, and delicious to boot.

Can't believe I got to the end without falling prey to the temptation of mummy jokes, pharoahnuff, or any mention of The Bangles.

Countryfile

Until next Sunday, Otter Farm putting the Count back into Countryfile with James Wong....about 6 minutes in.

Wordless Wednesday 2

Rumble in the Jungle

If there's a finer manmade 2 acres on this island than Martin Crawford's forest garden in South Devon I've yet to see it. A rambling foodscape, now 15 years old, it's the ultimate in low input-high out growing. It's well worth a visit, even if only virtually through his DVD - a clip here. I promise I'm not on a cut.

I spent a rather inspiring morning there alone, wandering around taking pictures. One of those places, like the beach on New Year's Day, that make you a little gladder to be alive. I'll post some pics later.

There's a pond near the centre that the Beautiful Demoiselles, other damselflies and dragonflies seem particularly to like. Huge numbers of both red and blue damselflies flitting around the apple mint, one of which had become trapped in a spider's web, attracting the less than positive attentions of its owner.



Google tells me the colourful combatant is a male Common bluetail damselfly, and I'm not one to go against the google. To all but a few anoraks, a spider's a spider and I'm not going to break ranks on that one.



They had quite a wrestle. The spider, I was sure, wouldn't find it too tricky - but the damselfly seeemed to be getting on top. Weirdly, other male Common bluetail damselflies came over and took turns to look. I'm not being lazy with my words here (not something I can always protest): they actually took it in turns to hover and (I don't know) watch, shout support, boo the spider. It reminded me of that bit in True Lies, when the plane appears at the window.



Excuse the duff depth of field - I was hanging over a fence trying to get close but not break the fence and fall into the pond.



I watched as long as I felt comfortable, and carried on walking and taking pictures. I had the distinct impression the damsel was going to come out on top, although I've no idea what (if any) armoury they possess.



An hour later, on my way out, I couldn't help a last look. They were both now at the side of the web, damsel dead, spider having a rest.

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D