I’ve just come in and peeled off the water proofs after the morning stock round, on a bitter, miserable morning. Lashing rain and gale force cold South Easterlies. No sign of ‘March going out like a lamb’ as I catch today’s Met Office warning from their website, which Fiona left on screen:
“The public should be aware of the potential for severe disruption, particularly to transport and to power supplies during Friday morning. Further snow is expected later on Friday – for which a yellow warning has been issued”.
(Last Saturday morning).
So time for a bit of ‘outside musing’, as is my self imposed brief.
With chickens and turkeys still laying, and a build up of hand milked ewe’s milk in the fridge, I thought I’d have a go at making an egg custard tart to use some of the surplus. But this must be a currently unfashionable dish, since none of our newer cookbooks had a recipe. In the end our stalwart and now falling apart early copy of the ‘Good Housekeeping Cook Book’ came up with the goods.
After pasteurising a pan of Lavinia’s very white but creamy milk, adding a split vanilla pod and some of the richly coloured eggs, by something akin to alchemy I ended up with a satisfyingly golden tart after it was cooked in the wood burning ESSE stove. I might even say that it had a ‘Calon Aur’. (Pronounced ‘Kallon Ire‘).
‘Calon’ is a Welsh word I’ve only previously encountered on the bottles of ‘Calon Wen’ whole milk which we’ve been using, or at least I have, (F preferring skimmed milk for diet reasons), for the last couple of years.
A garden visitor put us onto its merits of not only being local and organic, but very rarely these days for any whole milk, it’s also not homogenised. And milk being an extraordinarily complex mix of chemicals and cells, sourced organically, and with minimal processing can have a big impact on its nutritional value and taste. From the select 25 farms in the co-operative venture it’s not travelled far, and hasn’t been subjected to this extra high pressure homogenisation production process, which breaks fat molecules into tiny structures which don’t then separate out on the top of the milk, but which also affects their ability to be processed and absorbed by our gut wall.
However best of all the advantages of CW, is that in my frequent cups of tea, it lifts the drink to another plane. You really CAN taste a difference. But although I knew that ‘wen’ translates as white, I’d never worked out what ‘Calon’ translates as, and even a Welsh relative couldn’t enlighten me (the proportion of Welsh speaking people in Wales is actually surprisingly low – about 19%, and declining according to the latest nationwide census. In Carmarthenshire it is much higher than this, but declining, and no local council wards now have over 70% able to speak Welsh. Click here and here for further details, and how this is viewed politically).
Then in our only newspaper read, (last Saturday’ Daily Telegraph review section) came an appropriately timed piece by Jasper Rees under the heading of “Men of Cardiff on to Glory” reviewing “Calon : A journey to the Heart of Welsh Rugby – by Owen Sheers”. Click here for the review online.
Timely because as many UK readers will now know, Wales went on to thrash the old enemy England in the deciding match for the annual Six Nations rugby championship, and so retain the title that they’d won with a Grand Slam the previous year. So there we had it:
Calon = Heart, and my Calon Aur = Golden Heart (tart).
I’ll intersperse the discourse below with a few images of the weather on Saturday, for those who don’t want to read the words. I’d struggled to plant some ‘in the green bulbs’, or as it turned out ‘in the white’, and finish in time to make it inside for a cup of tea in front of the stove, but made it. Just.
As the spine tingling first bars of “Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi”, (The Welsh National Anthem – The Land of my Fathers is dear to Me) resonated round ‘y gegin hen’, (the old kitchen) via the radio, from the bowels of the closed roof Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, beyond the snow covered slopes of the just visible ‘Black Mountain’, to the South East.
But by this tenuous introduction, I shall fleetingly tip toe around the thoughts raised by reading Jasper’s review, and the ‘AURA’ (Golden glow?) surrounding the status of rugby and history in this glorious nation. And should preface it by saying that, to quote Jasper Rees, “The English, I find, haven’t got a clue”.
(We’ve just added Narcissus ‘Topolino’ daffodils last autumn to try to break up the strong yellow sweep of the N. ‘Tête à Tête’ and N. obvallaris, Tenby daffodil, bulbs. A March snowfall trumped our efforts this year).
But is this annual dragging up of the historical really helpful? As with:
” Oppressor and oppressed that began around the time King Offa of Mercia knocked up a dyke, … to the Welsh valleys flooded to fill English baths – they all form part of the annual fixture’s back story”.
“As the 70’s Welsh captain, Phil Bennett once MARVELLOUSLY (sic) put it: “We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon”.
A really moody cloudscape beckoned the camera, as the game ended, beyond our ha-ha wall – how appropriate, as the day turned out. Wales won by a record 30-3 margin shattering England’s title and Grand Slam aspirations).
This outside muser wondered whether, post devolution, it wasn’t time to move on?
Lighten up a bit?
Maybe even consider a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ modelled on the heroic South African efforts of Mandela and Tutu. OK, language and nationalistic thoughts like those recorded above may be a huge motivator for a sporting team, but doesn’t it inevitably colour or cloud a people’s thoughts? For the rest of the year? And in these austere times, perhaps a nation so dependent on outside aid from one source or another (principally the EU and UK), should be looking outwards and forwards rather than backwards and inwards? Click here for a review of Welsh economic activity relative to other parts of the UK/World.
But who am I to challenge the status quo?
This was indeed brought home last week when news that the second of the 3 current big wind farms planned for nearby, was granted permission by Greg Barker sitting in the Westminster Seat of Power. The Brechfa Forest West scheme will be developed by the German owned RWE NPower utility. A canny lot this multi-national, with their heavy investment in sponsoring local regional rugby team, the Swansea Ospreys. A recent additional wind farm scheme on the picturesque hills above Swansea at Mynydd y Gwair, was also opposed locally, but promoted by RWE NPower and has recently been granted approval, this time by the local Swansea planning committee.
In the case of our local scheme, the Welsh Assembly Government will reap the income from the turbines being placed on ex Forestry Commission land which the Welsh Assembly Government administer.
I’m sure that none of the random points apparently linked by association in the above text above have any bearing on each other, do they? But in a final ironic link to where Power and Glory reside, our own local Plaid Cymru MP, Jonathan Edwards, succeeded in bringing the decision making minister, Greg Barker, to a debate in Westminster hall to account for the fact that our local scheme was being decided in Westminster and not locally – or at least in Wales. This ‘debate’ took place just before the decision was granted. Well done to Jonathan for time tabling this, and prompting a memorable quote from Mr. Barker that there was no need to visit the area to assess the impacts of the scheme: “It is my job to bring together all those detailed observations and the representations made locally, and to consider them. I could carry out that consideration in Whitehall or Kathmandu, but I have to look at the evidence impartially and reach a decision.”
Nationally, Plaid’s current leader, Leanne Wood seems very pro wind farms, just so long as the income stream benefits ‘the people of Wales’. Nothing wrong with this, but it does seem that the opportunity of local residents to have any real influence on such massive civil engineering projects in a rural setting seems very limited indeed.
‘Twas probably ever thus, even before 1984.
Indeed after hearing the Radio 4 ‘Thought for the Day’ this morning from Lord Jonathan Sachs, the Chief Rabbi, on the ritual of songs that generations of Jews have used to celebrate ceremonial events from their calendar over 3,000 years, and how they’re used as aids to help hold fast to beliefs, and to provide “ideals to live for”, maybe Jasper Rees was right.
Perhaps you have to have been brought up on the side, of the oppressed to “really have a clue”.
To change tack, and become less provocative, a healthy scepticism or perhaps cynicism, has been creeping into this blogger’s approach to ‘global warming’, or its other, and perhaps now more often used, variant of simple ‘climate change’. Several years ago I planted several grape vines in our matrix tyre garden. Always wanting to experiment, these were surely the next crop to succeed as summers became more Mediterranean? Remember those frequent articles on planting for drought conditions, which were prevalent in the gardening press of the noughties?
This winter I’ve ripped them all out.
Perhaps this will prompt a summer heat wave, but the evidence of the last few years is that whilst the climate does indeed seem to be changing, and becoming much more unpredictable, there’s no way that at least here, it would seem to be generally warming. This current drawn out winter being just the latest example.
At lunchtime today, for the first time, I’ve picked up mention that this March may be the coldest for 50 years – so back to 1963, eh? The worst winter for most living memories, and look at the date on this back issue.
Coincidentally, an interesting graph plopped into our email this week, which I shall copy below, from the intriguingly called Global Warming Foundation.. Click here for link. It purports to show that the actual average global temperature change has, for the first time since these graphs were dreamed up, moved outside the trend lines – on the downside.
Readers will make their own judgement, but for this ageing blogger it confirms that sometimes gut reactions, or personal observations should trump the widely reported media skewed views of the experts. After all, look where trusting the economists, politicians or bankers has got ordinary folk in Western economies over the last few years?
So as well as ripping out the vines, a real focus for me has been trying to ensure we can still grow annual vegetables up here. In addition to regularly pre-germinating most seeds inside, or sowing in the extra warmth of the greenhouse, we’ve this spring added hot beds, and hot ‘dumpy bags’, using the new resource of on site animal and poultry manure, which fill the base of the beds and bags below and are then topped off with a few inches of soil.
Enviromesh, plastic and polycarbonte sheeting are all being brought to bear to dry and warm the soil pre planting, and on top of that, we decided to experiment with a couple of blocks of our chicken’s run. If the cold persists much beyond mid April, even this approach may be challenged.
Since they’re already rabbit and chicken fenced, I figured we could trial growing a few additional crops which might reduce our need for bought in stock feed. In anticipation we bought a second hand rotovator, and this year started using it. A very poor decision.
Don’t even think about it. On the flat it would give you a thorough whole body work out, which we both survived thanks to general fitness levels. But as it inched lower through the turf and soil with each bone juddering pass, we found we could really only manage 20 minute sessions at a time, before feeling exhausted. Meanwhile, on the fairly significant slope, all this activity sent the chopped turf and soil migrating very effectively downhill, and then had it to be shovelled back up. Another Ha Ha moment!
After at least 8 joint sessions, I’d had enough, and formed the area into 4 beds with temporary cardboard coverings. The plan is to add more compost mulch, and then use them for potatoes this season.
By chance I then found a link to Charles Dowding’s excellent site, click here for link and images. His idea of ‘No Dig’ organic vegetable growing, and the use of cardboard and manure/compost mulches really appealed, and since we’d already used this approach in herbaceous /shrub areas, we knew that it might work.
I was also intrigued to see that Charles graduated from Cambridge a year before me, and has had an interesting, varied career path since. So instead of tackling another section with the rotovator, we chose a calm day and simply covered the turf with cardboard, before making perimeter paths and shovelling the turfs from these paths upside down onto the cardboard sheets. Basing them on Charles’ preferred 8 x 5 feet dimensions, we achieved the result below in a single morning with infinitely less effort than using a mechanically powered option. Top dressed with wood ash, they will for sure take a few months and more compost before the beds can be planted in, but so far, so promising.
Meanwhile, our 2 female turkeys have progressed to the point where one is sitting on eggs regularly, and for almost 23 hours at a go. The other has joined it in laying, but there seems to be a complex pattern of egg shifting, up and down in the shielded nesting area, and more eggs are still being laid. Our approach has been to number them with pencil, and we’re gradually removing the older ones. They make good eating, but also we want to get to a point where all the eggs left for incubation will have been laid after the 2 nights of severe frost which hit us in mid March when neither hen was sitting on the eggs overnight.
Whilst turkeys were one of 2 breeds mentioned as being capable of hatching live chicks from frozen embryos, we’d prefer to minimise the risks of disappointment down the road.
Many plants which survived earlier wintry blasts have succumbed after 2 or 3 days of freeze chilling by strong easterlies, in the middle of this month. There’s still no sign on the monthly forecast of when this wintry weather will abate.
At least as I write, the turned out lambs are holding their own in the miserable conditions, and as we hoped, Cilla, the ewe lamb, is now emptying the second quarter. Hand milking is, for now, no longer needed. So, it looks like there will be no more Calon Aur egg custard tart for the time being.