A Country Diary: 55
THE MOST EXCITING event of the past month has been the arrival on Monday this week of two pigs. They are weaners, a cross between Saddleback and Devon Black. They are mainly black and cost thirty quid each. We plan to slaughter them in November in order to have a larder full of meat for the winter and also to follow the old medieval way:
At Michelmas I kill my swine
And at Christmas I drink red wine
They are delightful creatures, snorting, snuffling and digging away on their patch of overgrown land, and everyone is asking us whether we will be able to kill them. Will we not become too attached, they ask. But surely this is British sentimentality gone crazy. After all, the same people who would be afraid of killing swine are the ones who happily buy meat in the butcher’s shop or supermarket, made from pigs who may perhaps have been more intensively farmed and brutally slaughtered than ours. Our pigs will have the happiest lives imaginable, and will be shot through the head at home with a rifle when they are not looking. No, I am not going to shoot them myself. That job will go to Mark, the breeder from whom we bought the pigs.
AND THE HENS are reproducing. One of the hens has produced three cute little chicks, which we will either eat when they grow or keep for more layers, assuming that they do not die first: last year we had four dead chicks. We blamed the children for manhandling the delicate little creatures so this year they are on strict instructions not to touch them. They are very entertaining to watch: they cheep without cease and dance nimbly across the floor of the henhouse, their little feet hardly touching the ground.
WE HELD a big spring party in the yard. We borrowed a load of small straw bales from Farmer John for seating, and also a load of lovely old trestle tables from the village hall. Then there were two gazebos borrowed from friends, a barrel of beer and fantastic ham. We also put on a show of paitings by our friend Alan Davies. Alan has been painting portraits of people locally for twenty years and he wanted a chance to display them. He made a sort of collage from the canvases and we displayed it in the village hall. At half past four Bobby the Piper started up his state-of-the-art bagpipes and children and adults alike were piped up the lane to the village hall where Dora was ready with the cream teas. I think it’s safe to say that a merry time was had by all and we plan to throw the party annually.
THE APPLE tree in the garden has produced six fruits, not the 49 that I had hoped for when counting the flowers, so I think we’ll leave them all on there. As for the front garden, it is still a bit of mess but I did borrow Neighbour Caroline’s mattock the other day and created a new border. What a great tool the mattock is. It makes short work of digging up new ground and because of its weight it does a lot of the work for you. It also feels really medieval. Hail the mattock!
AND WHAT of the vegetables? Well, the hens have been causing absolute mayhem up there. Just as I was about to harvest with great pride my lettuces, they discovered them and pecked them to pieces. It was the same story with the cabbages, although thanks to my preventive measures with bits if spiky twigs, these now seem to have recovered. The broad beans are looking splendid and the French climbing beans have all germinated very easily. I plan to climb them up sticks placed in a triangle over the path, so you will be abel to walk through an arbour of beans. The Duke of York potatoes have grown fantastically well through the thick straw mulch and should be ready for harvesting soon. There is rocket all over the place and the strawberries are fattening but not yuet ripening. I sowed a few lettuce seeds between the shallots with the idea that the slugs would keep away, and I have to say that, touch wood, I haven’t seen many slugs up there. Maybe the hens are eating them, in which case I wil let them continue to make mayhem because slug control is such a difficult job. I can therefore forgive a few patches of scuffed up ground. All I need to do is put chicken wire on the ground after sowing and I should be OK. Hail the hen! My wild roots patch is not a great success. Instead of sowing in lines, I mixed little handfuls of carrot, beetroot, radish and turnip seeds togther and scattered them over the bed, with Henry’s help. They seem mostly to have germinated successfully but they’ve ended up in tight clumps and I’m not sure that’s right: we like to isolate our vegetables, don’t we? Finally the asparagus plants have not fared well: only three out of ten appear to have survived. But I presume that the other seven still lie dormant under the ground, and hope that they will live again, next year, perhaps. I worry that I left too much time between receiving the plants in the post and putting them in the soil. Maybe they dried out. Who knows. It’s all so mysterious and the more I learn the more ignorant I feel.