Category Archives: Smallholding

Masanobu Fukuoka: Sowing Seeds in the Desert

Masanobu Fukuoka - Sowing Seeds in the DesertMasanobu Fukuoka…I have now read his first book, One Straw Revolution, and his last, Sowing Seeds in the Desert. There is such a distance between eastern and western ways of knowing and thinking, I like how provocative it is to explore the spaces between them. I like how this book sets them in dialogue. Reading Fukuoka reminds me of seeing the Dalai Lama talk at the LSE — they seem so idealistic, they speak using familiar words but in such different ways, seem so removed and unworldly and thus so easily taken advantage of by a capitalist system that thrives on co-opting everything and turning it into profit. Yet really, seems to me their points are needle sharp in deflating the engorged balloons of western, capitalist ways of knowing and valuing. If you listen.

It also, of course, resonates so much with indigenous systems, with permaculture, with struggles for biodiversity and tradition as against monoculture and many another relationship between generations and the land they are connected to.

From the editor Larry Korn, who also helped bring the first book into the world:

The most conspicuous of the cultural difficulties is that the Japanese way of telling a story or developing a complex argument is different from the approach that is generally taken in English. In Japanese, the author typically begins with the theme or the point he wishes to make, then he offers an anecdote or an argument that helps to take that story or bolster the point before returning to the theme, which is restated. Then the author goes on another loop, again returning to the theme. One might say that these side stories or arguments form the petals of a flower with the theme as its center. (xxx)

In Western writing, however, the linear is preferred. The character arc. The beginning ramping up to a climax and then a tidy conclusion. Even in our non-fiction.

There has never been a generation like the present where people’s hearts are so badly wounded. This is true of every are of society–politics, economics, education, and culture. It is reflected in the degradation of the environment, which comes about through the material path humanity has chosen. Now we have the ugly sight of industry, government, and the military joining forces in the struggle for ultimate power. (14)

I don’t know that this linear thinking can be blamed for our current world, but it is part of the larger pattern I think. Curious that old certainties about cause and effect, our capacity to know everything, so many simplifications are being increasingly challenged by new thinking in biology — and this sounds remarkably like the kind of thing Brian Greene writes about in terms of new directions in physics:

Time does not simply flow mechanically in a straight line in a fixed direction. We could think of time as flowing up and down, right and left, forward and backward. As time develops and expands, multifaceted and three-dimensional, the past is concealed within the instant of the present, and within this instant of time is concealed the eternity of the future. (26)

All made of the same things, connected at the base like a chain of islands whose tops are above the ocean

In the past, present, and future, the true disposition of nature is toward abundance for human beings and for all species. Therefore the question should not be “Why are there too many people?” but rather, “Who has created the scarcity into which they are born?” And then, finally, “How can we heal the earth so it can support future generations?” (42)

On the equality and interconnectedness of all things…

Plants, people, butterflies, and dragonflies appear to be separate, individual living things, yet each is an equal and important participant in nature. They share the same mind and life spirit. They form a single living organism. to speak of creatures as beneficial insects, harmful insects, pathogenic bacteria, or troublesome birds is like saying the right hand is good and the left hand is bad. Nature is an endless cycle, in which all things participate in the same dance of life and death, living together and dying together. (43)

It is in using massive interventions to destroy parts of the cycle, with very little understanding of it and driven by motives of profit, that we have arrived at the point of destruction. This lack of holistic understandings is endemic, seen in many a western method for solving things.

When the specialized Western medicinal approach is used, the question of what gives life and health to the whole body and mind is put off. In other words, modern Western medicines puts the human body ahead of the human spirit. This separation is a starting point for emotional anxiety among people today. (44)

Fukuoka keeps them together:

Gradually I came to realize that the process of saving the desert of the human heart and revegetating the actual desert is actually the same thing. (47)

This is all talking about land and spirit and some of us (not me, especially not any more) will be rolling their eyes. But this understanding of the capitalist economy, the ‘Money-sucking Octopus Economy’ (50) as he calls it, is interesting,  it definitely breaks things up in a different way than I am used to. At the heart of the octopus? politicians and the military-industrial-government complex. The legs?

  1. maintenance of the transportation network
  2. control of agencies administering transportation
  3. supervision of communications
  4. establishment of an economic information network
  5. education and administrative advising
  6. control of financial institutions
  7. control of information
  8. control of citizens’ personal computers and registration (53)

I like this list, it’s funny that control of land and resources is not on it.

There is nothing I don’t agree with about consumption and our economic model though:

I have often said that value does not lie in material goods themselves, but when people create the conditions that make them seem necessary, their value increases. The capitalist system is based on the notion of ever-increasing production and consumption of material goods, and therefore, in the modern economy, people’s value or worth comes to be determined by their possessions. But if people create conditions and environments that do not make those things necessary, the things, no matter what they are, become valueless. Cars, for example, are not considered to be of value by people who are not in a hurry.

Economies that aim at production and consumption of unnecessary products are themselves meaningless. (51)

Yet that is our economic model of development. And it is all about control and the marketing of products — whether luxury goods or Monsanto’s technologies:

When I went to apply for a visa from the Somalian government, I was flabbergasted when they told me that any kind of instruction that agitates the farmers and encourages them to become self-sufficient would not be welcome. If such activity went too far, they said, it would be considered treason. (76)

Colonial agricultural policies…Big money into big damns, big irrigation, drawing water from aquifers leading to salinization of land, cash crops, ending nomadic cultures resulting in massive stress on one area of the land and damage to a culture and a people, national parks that its former indigenous residents must leave, and suddenly go all the way around in their movements. The are sudden insights, like the ways that the irrigation of water in high dikes controls the people who surround it, cuts them off from free movement and free access to water. And it puts blame where blame is due:

I started with the recognition that the causes of desertification in most areas are misguided human knowledge and action. If we eliminated them, I believed that nature would certainly heal itself. (87)

It examines the real costs of our current agricultural practices of GMOs, monocropping and etc — Fukuoka writes ‘Agricultural “Production” is Actually Deduction’ (88):

If you really count all the inputs of cost to the environment, mining and fossil fuel extraction, construction of machinery, damage from cash crops etc, we have the most inefficient agricultural systems possible…

It is not just in Africa that these problems exist.

About half of the land in the United States is, or is becoming, desert. I felt that the expanding American desert was at least as great a problem as the deserts of Africa, but most Americans seemed totally unaware that their country is becoming more arid. (123)

We don’t talk about those kinds of things, but it threatens the communities, like New Mexico’s acequia farmers, most likely to offer hope and the capacities to sustainably grow food in increasingly arid condition.

I do like that he toured the US saying this kind of thing:

Everywhere I went I preached the abolition of lawn culture, saying that it was an imitation green created for human beings at the expense of nature and was nothing more than a remnant of the arrogant aristocratic culture of Europe. (129)

This philosophy is a very particular way, very Japanese way of embracing the world, of changing it.

When people are released from the idea that they are the ones who have created things and have abandoned human knowledge, nature will return to its true form. The rebirth of nature is not simply a return to the primitive, it is a return to the timeless. My method of natural farming aims at liberating the human heart… (140)

I loved this final quote, partially a reminder that even if we are not the ones who love land and roots as farmers, we still can live in sustainable ways. But mostly it is good to encounter — to know — that radically different ways of being are still possible in this world:

I still remember the words of an Ethiopian tribesman who at first rejected my ideas of natural farming. “Are you asking me to become a farmer?” he asked. “To be attached to the soil and to accumulate things are the acts of a degraded person.” (52)

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A story about tractors

This is a story about tractors for my amazing nephew Eli.

There are two tractors who live on the farm. A lot of the time we work, while they sit around in the farmyard resting.

But when it’s time for the really big jobs? We think they are amazing. I am going to show you just some of the jobs they can do.

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One of the things they do is cut the grass, so all of the animals can have food in the winter time when snow covers the grass and they live inside.

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Sometimes little tractors can’t do everything themselves, so the tractors that live next door come and help!

This one pushes all of the grass into rows that are the perfect size. This is the daddy tractor:

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The son tractor follows behind him, scooping up all the grass into his baler. The baler takes all the grass and spins it into a big ball.

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Imagine cutting all this grass without a tractor!

Afterwards the baler covers the ball in plastic, and then just drops it onto the field. Poom!

You can watch it if you want to.

Riding in the tractor is fun, but you have to climb up up up to get into it! This is how big the neighbour tractor is:

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Inside you can see everything from really high up:

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When we need to move these bales off the field and stack them up, we put these funny arms onto our tractor. It’s important we don’t break the plastic, or the animals won’t like the food inside!

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For moving hay bales, you need the spiky arms instead. It’s so cool you can change the tractor’s arms to do all kinds of different things.

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These bales are SO BIG! See, here I am sitting on some in the barn.

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You can only move these big bales with a tractor.

Tractors can also make little hay bales when you connect this machine to it. This one is very old, but it still works and makes the hay nice and small so you can sit on it easier, and people can move it around!

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But best of all, tractors are really good at cleaning up HUGE messes. The cows and the sheep live inside the barn all winter, and they poop and pee and spill their food and it is so yucky.

With a tractor you can just move it all away. People only have to clean a little bit in the places where the tractor can’t reach. That still takes us hours, but look at what the tractor can do!

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I bet your mom wouldn’t mind having a tractor for your messes! But maybe you can use your little tractor to help her clean up. Because tractors love to help. Look at how much work this tractor has done, putting all the mess into just one shed.

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The tractor especially loves helping her animal friends. Like Sandy the calf:

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and Lilly the Kid:

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And all of the chickens. This one is Natasha:

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Mimi and Mishka the lambs:

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They all say bye bye Eli, maybe we will tell you another story sometime!

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Medieval farm illustrations of my farming experience

I should have known medieval farm illustrations might still be relevant to my own farming experience — found in the Lutrell psalter above all, which is unbearably wonderful. Also full of grotesques and wondrous creatures, everyday life is not forgotten. Here is catching lambs and ewes after the sheep have been herded up tight tight between hurdles — otherwise it is near impossible:

Sheep_pen_(Luttrell_Psalter)

This is, to be honest, a little spooky as it is exactly what we actually did, though the hurdles look a little different these days. Those look like buggers to manage, I confess. Also, they should be as tired and dirty and scraggly as me, but if you’ve been doing it longer maybe you can do it better in style.

Then there is the use of the little hook blade — not to harvest grain as here, but to clear pathways, wonderful things:

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To be fair, I did not in fact plough anything, but I have hunted out the old ridge and furrow patterns of open fields, seen all over the Peak District farm I worked on. Below is how they were formed and sown. Dogs, to be clear, do still chase birds with similar lack of success, but there were no clouds of birds settling across the newly turned earth as I have read about here, and once experienced magically in Mexico:

Ploughing, sowing, and harrowing, c1300-1340, (c1900-1920). Scenes from the Luttrell Psalter. A print from Art History and Literature Illustrations, by Jessie Noakes, Virtue and Co, (London, c1900-1920).
Ploughing, sowing, and harrowing, c1300-1340, (c1900-1920). Scenes from the Luttrell Psalter. A print from Art History and Literature Illustrations, by Jessie Noakes, Virtue and Co, (London, c1900-1920).

When working in the permaculture garden, Rob pointed out to me a Bruegel painting where someone was obviously peening a scythe in the front left corner — a method still used to give a new edge to the blade when the metal has blunted enough that whetstones are no long able to hone it.

Brueghel the elder haymaking

This makes mowing look lovely — mowing weeds isn’t quite the same, but the piles are much the same and the work teaches you just how wonderful such rest and food can be:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Harvesters, 1565
Pieter Bruegel the Elder – The Harvesters, 1565

There are few things in life better than Brueghel paintings, whether by the elder or the younger, especially for understanding a landscape and how people fit into it, how they shape it.

Tractors are mostly used to cut and bale hay for long winters, but we did some smaller bales — still mechanized, but heaved around and stacked by hand. No grain though.

Medieval harvest. Border illustration from the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter showing men on a farm stacking sheaves of a cereal crop. Some of them are using gloves. The Luttrell Psalter is an illuminated manuscript that was produced in East Anglia, England, and dates from around the period 1325-1335. The text is in Latin, while the marginal illustrations show saints, Bible stories and everyday rural life.
Medieval harvest. Border illustration from the 14th-century Luttrell Psalter showing men on a farm stacking sheaves of a cereal crop. Some of them are using gloves. The Luttrell Psalter is an illuminated manuscript that was produced in East Anglia, England, and dates from around the period 1325-1335. The text is in Latin, while the marginal illustrations show saints, Bible stories and everyday rural life.

We’re still feeding chickens, and building them secure homes in the hopes that the foxes won’t get them.

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No feeding of squirrels though.

imagesI believe this kind of work is for the gentry, but who can tell?

Raised beds? I spent so much time working on raised beds just like this one, and the space looked just the same:

Medieval-Raised-Beds

Here as well — we had no knot garden, but edged and dug the earth using the same tools:

Pieter Brueghel the Younger -- Spring (between 1622–35)
Pieter Brueghel the Younger — Spring (between 1622–35)

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I am rather certain that is some pollarding of the tree happening at the top right, and look at those sheep!

This look has been a bit desultory, I am sure there are many more!

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Farm archaeology: barrows, mines and medieval fields

The farm archaeology is fascinating here, and best of all there is a folder full of articles and reports on what can be seen, and what experts know about it. The information here comes from a report done by Frank Robinson in 2001 (FR), an English Heritage designation report (EH), and a lovely packet put together by a Geography teacher for the local secondary school (G). These maps are from Robinson:

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The farm sits at the top in the middle. For the farmhouse – the house and stone buildings built in the late 18th and early 19th century, and they originally made cheese in what is now the kitchen (G). The oldest building stands along the lane and supposedly ‘from the lane can be seen a sandstone cheese press block used to fill part of an old doorway’ (FR). I read that too late to go look for it, coming to Glasgow meant I didn’t quite get to process everything. Whitewash (made of quicklime from the lime quarry on the farm itself) mixed with cow’s blood, dung, sand and horse hair worked as building mortar, and this was used in construction of the farm itself, along with more quarried limestone, and rubble infill.

The old shed along the lane:

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The farm itself from the lane:

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As interesting are the hedgerows – The presence of 8 different woody species age a hedge at roughly 500 years, the hedgerow here is probably about 800 years old due to the presence of 13 different woody shrubs: Hawthorn, Buckthorn, Guelder Rose, Holly, Elderberry, Willow, Hazel, Honesuckle, Field Maple, Field Rose, Dog Rose, Blackthorn and Ash (G).

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Almost as cool is that the age of the hedgerow may show date of enclosure — Robinson notes that the land was enclosed by agreement so there is no act as such, probably the field boundaries were established by early 19th century. These now serve as windbreaks and habitats for small mammals and birds – wrens, bank voles, badgers, foxes, rabbits. Other plants found here are wood anemone, townhall lock, goldilox buttercup, ground ivy, red campion, dog’s mercury, and lords and ladies (G). For years these would also have been the main source of firewood, and food as well — the tender shoots of hogweed boiled or steamed! Delicious.

Before enclosure these were open fields, plowed in a ridge and furrow pattern which shows the old medieval fields. These ridges were to be found all over the farm, but I found them difficult to see in many places. Apple Sitch Pingle (a name I never heard, this field was always top block) shows them clearly in the late afternoon light however, especially after mowing:

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Robinson notes the meaning of this old field name – sitch is an old English word for a muddy stream, Apple probably a spelling of Aplow – low old English hlaw – hill or mound. Ap could refer to a hill or lost barrow. Pingle term often used to describe a meadow by the side of a stream.

You climb up to the top of the this and get the most lovely view of the farm and surrounding hills:

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The next field up is Stanlow Close, between this and Stanlow Nobbs is:

The dew pond

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These were needed before the existence of water mains and hoses. Built to provide water for upper fields, Robinson describes their building as almost a lost art. They were made with a special clay lining to retain water, sometimes ‘puddled with pig manure and dock leaves’. The Department of Agriculture ordered these filled in during the 1950s — there are evidence of several on the farm.

Continuing on to Stanlow Nobbs (limekiln field or the quarry to us) are

The barrows

Climbing up from the other side:

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And another view of them (and me! Hello!):

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The view from the top

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From the very dry English Heritage Monument documents: There are two bowl barrows, joined by an earthwork ‘not yet fully understood’. Lucas and Carrington partially excavated one of the barrows in 1869, dated it to Bronze age and found a pottery urn, amber ring, perforated stone axe and bronze 3-rivetted dagger with ivory pommel (the axe and dagger are buried somewhere in the British Museum — they were once thought lost but refound, probably in a pile of things all gathering dust in London. I can’t help but feel they should have remained with their dead, or be found in the local museum). Cropmarks (3 rectangular marks of lush growth in dry weather) show probable location of Anglian secondary burials dating to c AD 700.

This would also be shared in common with Wigber Low — which is visible from here but this view of it makes it seem most unremarkable.

The cropmarks weren’t visible sadly. Robinson gives a bit more information — most such bowl barrows are from the Late Bronze Age, dating between 2400-1500 BC. Of these, there is actually some debate as to whether the smaller of the two is simply a natural mound, as well as the connecting ridge between them. This hasn’t yet been resolved as there has been no excavation since the 1800s.

Just to the other side of them, a rise followed by a dangerous drop off shows the presence of:

The Quarry

Climbing down and around it is beautiful here in the afternoon light:

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This area is left uncut and ungrazed through July so rare limestone flora can grow as part of a conservation scheme – Stone Crop, Cowslip, Primroses, Wild Carrots, Sheep’s Bit Scabious and Field Scabious, Yarrow, Meadow saxifrage, Kidney Vetch and others:

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Two quarries appear on 1850 tithe maps, by 1880 they had been combined and extended. In 1941, the farm owner (Jack Oakes) and a butcher in Ashbourne (Herbert Plumbley) were recorded as operators, and providing crushed Limestone for construction of Darley Moor – Ashbourne’s airfield during WWII.

This quarry is also the site of the

Lead Mine

The two were worked together. I wasn’t sure quite where the seam was to be found, assuming it to be somewhere amongst the rubble in the middle:

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Lead mining was another way to supplement farm income, and lead was used widely before plastics became available, especially for plumbing. There are a number of records relating to the mining, and showed a number of people in the surrounding area had worked the quarry, not just the farmer. The more recent 20th Century mine shaft has been explored by a local group, and they found evidence of folded iron rails and a wooden sleeper from narrow gauge track, as well as a winching beam standing over a shaft .

Other records are to be found in the Wirksworth Wapantake General Barmasters Book vols 24 and 77, though there were much older workings here as well. The English Heritage records note that this is described as a King’s Field, where the crown has the right to assign mining rights. The below is all from Robinson:

1806 land staked out as Bonyhole (bony hole) by William Bearisford of Weston. I know some of you will find that name hilarious, there is no speculation on its origin.

1938 H.G. Plumbley and John Oakes (the butcher/farmer combo) claimed a vein in the quarry with the Barmaster. In October and December 1948, two others (W.J. Brooks of Wirksworth and John Matkin of Carsington) applied to be given rights to work Bonyhole mine – notice was served on Plumbley on 23rd December ‘that unless his mine, Bonyhole is put in proper workmanship within 3 weeks it will be given away. Notice is also posted at the mine’. The new owner of New House Farm, Major F.C. Linnel-Gosling, then sent his own notice of registration as owner, saying that he had been working since Jan 1948 and that others had unlawfully taken lead from it.

Brooks returned the lead.

As of 1950 when Bob’s father bought the farm, I don’t think there was any longer activity in the quarry or mine.

Close to the quarry is also to be found a gravel pit:

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Along with ruins of the:

Limekiln

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Limestone used to be quarried both as a source of income and for the farm itself – quarried limestone was used as a building material of course, but could also be heated in a kiln to produce Calcium Oxide – Quicklime. This was sprinkled in plague graves to reduce infection. It was a also mixed with water to make slaked lime – ie whitewash — which was also known as ‘bug-binding’ as it disinfected walls in houses and barns and got rid of insects. Whitewash, as mentioned at the beginning, could also be mixed with blood, straw and sand to create mortar for building. All in all, limestone is a very useful material.

From the edge of the field you can look into Rye Close

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Clearly used as a field for planting rye — once the main grain for consumption in this area. This was known to his parents as the football field as there used to be a football pitch on it! Old ridge and furrow is supposed to be visible from medieval plowing, but I couldn’t really see it. I’d have hated to play football on it.

Coming back down the central field you can some more of it though, not so much from the top

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but further down, where the electric fence now keeps everything safe from the goats.

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This place was rich in history, and visible markings of the different ways people not just grew food and raised livestock for survival here, but also dug out metals and processed rock. I so loved being part of this.

Strange after thinking of land and history in this way, to wake up to the news that we have left the EU. The area where I was voted overwhelmingly for leave…signs were posted everywhere, and I know a meeting of farmers was held to discuss the issue, and they were all for leave which disappointed the conveners immensely. An American friend asked what I thought about it all and I am still not sure, but this is sort of what is in my head — and I wished for us to remain.

Most of us are pretty depressed, because it feels like a vote for the right wing and xenophobia and racist anti-immigrant rhetoric and insularity and fear… and at the same time there was a strong left argument for leaving because the EU is a neoliberal shit that has been working to build a (metaphorical-ish) wall around the EU to stop all non-white immigrants from getting in (while allowing free movement within it) and pushing austerity and layers of bureaucracy without much accountability, and I’ve heard some argue it’s a working class vote against politics in general, which may be true — but seems as usual cities full of working class and immigrants tended to vote one way and rich and rural people who live in areas without immigrants voted another, with some exceptions for areas in the north that have been truly fucked economically for a very long time. Brixton/South London was 78% remain, and of course scotland also voted remain so another vote for their independence will probably take place again in light of this. It will be years two years at least, of course, before it ‘starts’ and at least one booming job market in legal wrangling and regulation writing. I wish I could celebrate Cameron’s resignation properly but I just can’t.

Many on my facebook feed see it is a failure of the (Blairite) left to respond to concerns of the working class facing stagnant wages and a shrinking economy and fewer and fewer services and opportunities.

But the news has been heartbreakingly unbearable lately, even more than usual. It hasn’t helped too much to spend every day working so hard physically to produce food rather than politically or with community as before, nor helped much to think of how many bloody and horrific periods of history these barrows or the ridge and furrows have existed alongside and survived, but it resets the perspective a little perhaps.

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Cows

I am a day behind, so this is actually yesterday’s post on cows. And some mysterious news is taking me up to Glasgow on Thursday, so time here is cut short! I am a little sad, because I still haven’t written on the farm itself, but I will tomorrow. Today?

Cows.

They are really big.

Especially these cows, beef cattle, Herefords. I found this on the Hereford cattle website, containing all you want to know about why these are good cows to have (though they are trying to sell you Herefords, it’s true):

Identity: Throughout its history the Hereford has maintained its distinctive white face and red coat. All cross-bred Hereford cattle feature a white face, a distinct advantage for easier traceability and future predictability.
Foraging Ability:
Docility: Hereford cattle are famous for their good temperament…
Adaptability:
Ease of Calving:
Fertility:

Ease of management:
Quality Beef:

So there you have it — the black cattle in the herd  have been crossed with Holstein-Friesian cattle, the kind of cow most often pictured in the books belonging to small children and on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream tubs. You see a field of these cows? You’re probably safe to go into it.

When you sell cows for meat they are graded on how much fat they have. How can you tell if your cows are too fat? You look at the bulge where their tail meets their body. These cows are getting up there.

We were moving the cows to a new field, but needed them to spend some time in the bridle path connecting the two eating the grass there as well, so the plan was to have Leo at one end and myself at the other in case a walker came along wanting to use the bridle path.

Cows DO like moving into the next field.

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So they entered the passage fairly easily, bringing the sheep along with them. The sheep are in full agreement with the cows on the moving-into-a-new-field thing.

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So easy, right? I stood there, got out my kindle with some joy after appreciating the view for a few minutes and idly pondering life and cows.

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It turns out Cows DO NOT like remaining in fairly narrow paths between fields.

With a thundering, they all came racing back towards me. In discovering whether the grass was greener on the other side, they had ALL left their calves behind in a clump at the end of the old field, which we hadn’t quite realised. That combined with not liking narrow enclosed spaces is what sent them running back we think. Straight at me. A fence in between, but still.

Cows are really big.

One skidded a few feet in the mud (it’s been raining for days and days, finally some sun that afternoon). Trying to stop.

Finally after great commotion they gradually reunited with their calves. Milled around a bit.

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They eyed me with varying degrees of suspicion and resentment:

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They headed down to the other end, came running back to me again. In the process trampling the nice new grass. The sheep had had enough.

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The cows decided rather than enjoying the new grass around them, that they really wanted to come into this field.

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They brought horseflies with them. I fucking hate horseflies. I have a few new welts. I also have more empathy with cows, who were covered in the things.

They trampled down the grass, left great ruckings in the ground, stripped leaves off of trees, and when their hour was up, we let them into the next field along. They seemed very happy there today.

After such a day — and that day the other group all got out of the far field and we herded them back along the road — I have realised that while I like cows all right, I do not love them. In the face of the kind of admiration raised amongst those around me, which I witnessed as we stood around for a rather long time staring over the fence at the said cows, I had to acknowledge I was lacking something. A beautiful something.

I shall leave you with a poignant image of bovine longing, and you can decide whether you have it or not.

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Wondrous Wasp Nest and a Giant Marquee

This wraps up today, along with aching shoulders and much tiredness.

Every year here a party is thrown for the daughters and friends, so we spent the day putting up the giant marquee — tricky and took over 4 hours — moving sofas and carpets and mattresses and more. The first highlight was riding on the trailer as it was pulled by the tractor up the field, carrying lamps and tables and other assorted items.

Farm 3.11

But really, I loved most of all this wasp nest built on one of the couches

wasp nest

Wondrous and beautifully made. I am sad to say that late in the afternoon I hit it with a stick because the couch was needed and I do not like getting stung…I had poked it lightly first and had it been a little stronger I might have considered a different form of removal, but it crumbled. It had no cells, was almost hollow and held at most 5 wasps. Sluggish, they did not fly at me despite how fast I initially ran away.

I bet that was fairly amusing to watch.

And then I fed the animals, and Arthur — este cabron — took a real run at me because he didn’t think I had given them enough corn and I cursed him fluently and at length. But the day is all done now. Short day tomorrow and then a luxurious get away to Derby.

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From farm emergency to emergency

I spent most of the morning weeding, but only after the feeding. The lambs were happy to see me, and Sandy is no longer my favourite. Those goddamn docks keep seeding and I have been speeding to lop off their heads and chop them down — I have discovered that the only way to be safe with flowering docks is to send the whole of them to the muck heap as they seed up and down every stem. Every time I look closely at the mulch pile on the raised bed I see the still-living flower heads growing up from the stems I cut a week ago quite certain I had removed the flowers. Wrong.

Lessons learned. Emergency in the making? Just like every hogweed and nettle flowerhead. It is too late now, I should have been doing this a month ago. I should have known better.

And did I tell you the tractor caught on fire yesterday, or was it the day before? It did. Fault with the wiring which is hopefully fixed, and it’s raining today so it should be just fine right? But I didn’t see it myself, so it’s almost like it didn’t happen, still, I am collecting emergencies. There have been infinite and ongoing small ones, but I have set a limit on size and scale you see — so I thought perhaps the milk for my morning coffee getting pinched this morning from the fridge didn’t quite make it into the list, because by after lunch my bitterness had gone.

The rain fell fairly relentlessly so I spent much of the morning in the polytunnel, destroying docks and burdock and mizuna run amuck and creeping thistles.

This afternoon, Leo and I cleaned out the cow trailer with a broom, a brush, and little more than a trickle of water. I remembered the pressure washer with great affection and even longing. Scrubbing and scrubbing and I am so tired. A little after four we went to let the cows into the middle path, but before we could send them through the hurdles we had to rig up, we were swept off to help deal with a proper spectacular emergency as the cows in the far field had got out, and were in the neighbour’s silage field. Off we went to collect them up — it was nice sitting down in a car. Very nice indeed. I had time to remember how beautiful it is here. Then we collected the cows, walked them down the lane (the cars had to stop for us and we ambled along cow-paced and it was the highlight of the day) and into their proper field. Bob fixed up where they had broken loose. We found the two cows we thought we were short, they had stayed in the field. Endless evening emergency search averted.

I wish I had pictures.

Almost 7 we got back and the poor lambs and Sandy and Lilly the kid still needing to be fed.

So. Tired.

Animals underfoot and a deepening misanthropy

The days begin to run together…the feeding of the animals in the morning, the digging out of nettles and docks. The sheep are grazing in the big field now, I have had to go and get them all the way up here (those little dots at the top near the centre):

Farm 3.8

This is the field where my caravan sits, which isn’t quite so secure, so the bottle fed lambs have started following me around when they see me, and I don’t disappear for too long. That’s pretty sweet of them — at least of the two older and fatter ones, Mimi and Mishka. They at least pretend they like getting scratched and a bit of a fuss made of them.

Sometimes they lead:

 Farm 3.8

Sometimes they follow — here they are trying to follow me into the polytunnel. Molly the dog is often hanging around as well, as you can see. I think the lambs make her just a bit jealous.

Farm 3.9

The other two make it clear you are only a provider of food. They also get stuck everywhere, because they’re not clever enough to figure out the concept of gates and other such barriers. They don’t quite get that sometimes they can see you but can’t get to you without coming around the end of whatever stands in between.

I have no pictures of them.

I do have a picture of the Hunchback of New House Farm and Esmeralda — geese move in gangs of vicious hissing creatures, and these two are no different yet I rather love them as the pair of outcasts that they are, I have been running into them everywhere as well:

Farm 3.8

I got plenty of weeding done yesterday and today, some in the lost garden up top, some in one of the polytunnels today while it was raining. I think I may save up pictures to do a time sequence. I am now wearing rubber dish-washing gloves under my gardening gloves, and it is saving my wrists and my hands.

I also sorted out rubbish from recycling from the two large groups of weekend campers who I hate with a deep hatred as they did not sort out their own recycling and one group also drank an insane amount and the other group had a baby — from the amount of nappies there must have been about four — and it was not fun and all the lambs were in everything as well as Sandy the calf. She trod on my foot, and that hurt. She also added an occasional layer of calf slime to the general dirt on my person. She, too, seems only interested in whether I have food, so I have been forced to fix all of my affections on mimi and mishka, and all of my dreams on a bath.

There is Lilly the kid as well, she is always lovely and affectionate. Even Arthur now is nicer, when not butting me because I am being slow with the corn. His horns are still wicked though.

It rains now, how it rains. It sounds lovely and very loud against the caravan. I have no idea when dinner will be, and I left my rain coat is in the farm house, so I shall end this post on a quandry.

Farming: the tragedy of a young German DJ

As you can see from the picture that heads this post, the wunderkind left his blue hat in this very smelly barn of muck. I do not know who he will be without it, I can imagine him without it only with very great difficulty. This barn happens to be where we chop wood which is how he came to leave it. Now it stands as a lonely, colourful testament to his abhorrance of getting dirty or work of most kinds. A lost testament to his dreams.

I can’t mock him too much though. I myself must confess that after only a week here I am rather pining for a slap-up dinner commencing with cocktails where I shall be fully clean, and wearing a dress and nice shoes and the food shall have fancy names and maybe there shall be some words I don’t know, and there shall be lights and mirrors and wine and good smells and I shall be out. I don’t think it is just this place making me feel this way, I believe it is more of a cumulative emotion.

There is a burning circle around both of my wrists from nettle attacks across the gaps between my gloves and my jumper/coat (depending on how much it was raining at the time). But I wrecked great havoc on them today. I am changing my strategy per request to prioritize flowering/seeding nettles along with the docks, so it won’t have quite the daily before and after affect. Ah well.

Farm 3.6

Farm 3.6

This morning I also shared a special moment with the goats, because for the first time ever I realized that I was able to say andale cabrona completely appropriately, and Lilly the Kid came peering out before her bully brother pushed through:

Farm 3.6

Farm 3.6

I also split some wood and spent over an hour sweeping up and collecting the wood shavings from the chain saw. I collected two bags full for the outdoor compost loos, and sprinkling them after use does indeed almost entirely get rid of the smell! No wonder they were used on the floors of all those bars and eating establishments…God I miss Philippe’s in LA, what I wouldn’t give for a french dip sandwich with cheese, a lemonade, and a piece of apple pie.

This place is all right though.

Farm 3.6

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