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Archive for January, 2015

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that Scythes don’t come out much in the Winter months. So it was a pleasure to combine our winter Scythe Association meeting with reed cutting at Heacham Saltings on the North Norfolk coast.

DSCF1633Traditionally the reed is cut and gathered for thatching. For the Scythe to lay the reed where it can easily be gathered into bundles we attach a simple cradle made from a suitable rod of flexible fresh (green) wood like Willow or Hazel which helps to lay the reed all in the same direction in the windrow.

DSCF1642Saturday morning was bright but bitterly cold and getting down into the reed bed provided almost the only prospect of shelter as well as warmth through plenty of exercise. Our host Richard Brown led the way in and explained the work needed (the Saltings is managed under an environmental stewardship grant and mowing of blocks in the reed bed is a part of the conservation management).

DSCF1655It wasn’t long before we were all getting to grips with mowing the 6ft reeds.

DSCF1679The reed bed had already been drained down to allow us to mow the reeds but ditches, channels and pools of water remain and for those wearing long wellingtons or short waders it afforded the chance to experience some underwater mowing.

DSCF1657John Letts took the opportunity to bundle some of the mown reed.

DSCF1684But as the reed was being cut for conservation management rather than thatching most could be forked into piles at the edges of the bed.

DSCF1659Before too long our enthusiastic team of mowers had made good inroads into the bed and cleared enough reed to complete the task.

DSCF1660I’ve been making some traditional English steam bent shafts over the last year and this was my first change to try out one of my new snathes (on the right). I’d hurriedly fitted it out with a random assortment of ironwork and handgrips (nibs) on Thursday before travelling to Norfolk and was a little worried that it might not survive the encounter. In the event the scythe proved to be more equal to the task, as it’s little on the large and heavy side for reed mowing, though it’s not finished yet and needs plenty of tweaking to get it optimised.

DSCF1710Suitably warmed and exercised we retired to Richard’s beach house to take in the views over the Wash and for our formal Scythe Association winter meeting, a short affair followed by evening of long conversations fuelled by Simon’s excellent blue cheese, plenty of beer and I seem to remember that a bottle of my ‘Sloe Vodkin’ was involved as well.

DSCF1749On Sunday Richard has another block of reed for us to mow, this time at the other end of the saltings. An opportunity to blow away the cobwebs and finish the job.

DSCF1784All too soon the job was done and it was time to take my leave. Back to the real world. I love the work that I do, but I will carry with me the memory of the places I’ve been, things I’ve done and the people I’ve seen over the last three days. Thank you  – It’s been like a breath of fresh air to recharge my batteries in the middle of winter.

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      P1030471Two little pigs went to market……except the pigs weren’t so little any longer! In case you weren’t aware we’ve been keeping a couple of pigs. We were lucky to be offered the use of a small piece of ground, scrub woodland really, a short walk around the corner in Lynchmere where we live.

After 16 short weeks our two Oxford Sandy and Black’s aren’t piglets any more, they’re porkers. Porker is the name for a pig that’s reached a size big enough to eat as the joints make good pork. A bit larger and they are called baconers as there is enough meat and fat for good cuts of bacon. We’re hoping for a bit of bacon.

On Monday our first time keeping stock came to an end, except it’s as much the beginning as it is the end, we always planned it this way but it’s somehow different from the planning when you actually come to do it.

DSCF9859It’s hard to remember just how small  they were when they first arrived!  You wouldn’t want to be picking one up now – Alison estimated that they were 70 plus kg last week – and immensely strong.

DSCF9893-001and they were very cute as well !

DSCF9899There was  grass in the pen in those days! Digging is natural behaviour for pigs and they had ample scope digging some big holes in their pen – this was their first digging experience just a few seconds after arriving.

P1030290By the beginning of  this week it more resembled the Somme than a woodland glade both for the amount of mud and the depth of some of the craters they dug.

P1030425Even the pig ark was starting to take some damage. Not sure it would have taken much more abuse and we plan some reinforcements for the next inhabitants. Yes, I made the ark from some local larch and logs after advice from Graham (of Wildcroft rare breed farm in Puttenham where we got the pigs) that wooden arks are expensive to buy and they quickly get chewed and damaged so we thought we might as well make our own.

P1030455The Oxford Sandy and Black (OSB) is a traditional rare breed which is known for being placid and easy to keep. Good for first time keepers like us. It’s also  renowned for the quality of the meat making good pork and bacon as well – and let’s face it – this is all about the meat in the end no matter how cute they might be. This one was known as crackle (short for crackling) has the lop ears.

P1030454His brother Scratch (yes it’s short for Scratchings) had lop ears when he arrived but somewhere along the line developed a habit of waving his ears out horizontally – and acquired the optional name of Yoda because he did that thing with his ears.

P1030472We enjoyed their company and took a lot of pleasure from their inquisitive, gentle and always funloving natures but they are big boys now and it’s time to take them to market or in our case to Southern Traditional Meats near Henfield in West Sussex.

P1030476We wanted the final journey to be as stress free for the pigs – if not us – as we could make it. It’s a 30 mile journey and we needed to be sure that they would be comfortable in the trailer – and that we could get them into the trailer having little or no experience of this and having heard many horror stories of spending hours trying to get pigs into trailers. So we fed them in the trailer a couple of times before kitting it out with bedding and a water bucket for their journey.

This was always going to be the hardest part of the job. Alison has done all the hard work of the stock-keeping and has been the closest to the pigs so that makes it all the harder. But as we both realised – if you can’t bear to grow your own meat how can you buy meat from a supermarket shelf when you have little or no idea how the animals were treated.

In the event the final journey went with no complaints (I think that’s got to be the best you can say really) and we were very pleased with the quiet and calm in the pens at the abbattoir which were all occupied by rare breed pigs. I think we gave them the most contented short life that they could have wished for. I like to think that this will show in the quality of the meat.

We’re just about to find out and I’m going to get to make some bacon………

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