Mow…Or Let Grow?
What a lovely time of year May is! The hedgerows are looking gorgeously fluffy with cow parsley and May blossom, bluebells are still nodding their heads and the bright yellow sunshine of buttercups is just joyous. The weather has warmed up and since the recent spells of rain (most welcome after such a dry April!) everything is being to grow amazingly quickly. The asparagus spears get noticeably taller by the hour and the veg beds need hoeing every few days to keep weeds under control.
The grass is also growing fast and neighbouring farms are beginning to make silage. We mow our grass paths every week to keep the routes we use around the smallholding accessible. It’s helpful to have short-ish grass on the areas where we walk and work most often, e.g. near the polytunnel and in the Tree Field.
Other areas we leave for different lengths of time depending on what’s growing there (daffodils, bluebells etc.) or whether it’s one of our nature zones. In the middle of our five acres, behind Shepherds Hut Bryn, we have “Gorse Hill” which we leave completely untouched. Gorse flowers are a great source of pollen for bees, often when not much else is in flower, and the thickets provide safe nesting areas for many birds.
In Bottom Field we are creating a more managed wildlife friendly space around the big pond. There are mown paths for humans and their canine friends to use, as well as those birds who like short grass to hunt for food. Even in the short grass there are dandelions, daisies and all sorts of little flowers.
On the big bank we strim the meadow wild flowers at the end of the growing season. The borders of the field are allowed do their own thing (gorse, blackthorn and brambles are appearing), while we try to keep the grass and herbage around our baby oaks and hazels short to give the trees a chance. In the long grass areas in May you’ll see red campion, herb robert, vetch and lady’s smock. I went to take a picture of some of the latter for this blog and found butterflies and insects happily stocking up from her stores.
To increase the variety of flora, we have added plugs of wildflowers including angelica, marsh mallow, borage, ox-eye daisies, viper’s bugloss and teasel in different spots. These will be coming into flower soon, but in the meantime, we can enjoy what May has to offer and not mow where we don’t need to.
TOUCHING THE PAST
Every now and then when I’m digging a veg bed, I find something which tells me humans have been here for a while. It’s usually baler twine, but sometimes it’s a fragment of pottery or an unidentifiable lump of metal. As I was getting last year’s peas and beans bed ready for this year’s potatoes, I came across a pebble. A pebble so lovely and smooth it must have been the product of the action of waves or a tumbling stream for a long time. But I found it in the field we have turned into our kitchen garden. So was there a stream there once or did someone, as I sometimes do, pick one up from the beach and bring it home? If so, who and when?
We know a little bit about the Roberts family who used to live at Cae’r Bryniau in the last century, but further research will have to wait till we’re less busy. We know it was a small, probably 17 acre, dairy farm and that in later years the workshop (now our kitchen) was where Edwin Roberts made coffins for the local Chapel, where he was also the grave digger.
The smallholding has changed a lot, now five acres and no cows, as has our cottage. We have mains electricity for a start! We no longer use the well for water – it was blocked up by the time we came, but whenever I walk over the millstone which covers it, I think of those times when mains water was not an option.
Down the road in Church Bay, Swtan, a restored thatched cottage is similar to how ours might have been once. I love the whitewashed walls, the pebble-cobbled paths, the red tin barn and the dry stone walls. In the summer, it is open to the public in the afternoons and you can go inside to get a taste of life a hundred years ago. https://swtan.cymru
A few miles in the other direction from us, and visible from our Gorse Hill, is another well preserved example of old Anglesey life, Melin Llynnon. Although most visitors now go there for Richard Holt’s fabulous Mônuts, Siocled and Gin, it’s also worth spending a bit of time to tour the windmill.
There were once hundreds of windmills on Ynys Môn, giving the island its nickname of Môn Mam Cymru as it was the breadbasket of the country, producing more grain than any other part of Wales. I wonder if the millstone over our old well came from Melin Llynon or one of the others.
So many questions…good things to ponder while getting the smallholding and huts ready for spring.
TAKING TIME OUT TO REFLECT
A few weeks ago, I took up the opportunity for a few hours away from the smallholding and had an unashamed bit of “me” time. Anglesey Shepherds Huts had been approached by Liz Lane of Hearts and Hooves Connection Coaching to provide accommodation for her clients on retreat and, in order to see what Liz was offering, I went to have a taster session with her and her ponies. Liz is an Equine Gestalt Coach, based about 8 minutes’ drive up the road and her site offers great views out to the sea. It’s a special place – and that’s before you even meet the ponies!
Liz was careful to ask how comfortable I was with horses – the answer was a sort of “so-so” – and gave me a good introduction to what I could expect and how to behave. Although I met the horses, particularly Tom Jones, an 11 year old Welsh Pony, up close and personal, they did not choose to come over during my coaching session with Liz. But that was fine as we had more than enough to explore!
When I first heard what Liz was doing, I immediately thought of my sister Angela and her love of horses. She would have loved the idea of connecting to our inner selves with the help of these beautiful creatures. Angela was a music therapist and talented writer, and she particularly loved her voluntary work at a pony sanctuary. She died in 2002, aged 31, when her fragile body could no longer cope after years of anorexia.
I felt that by meeting Liz, I had been given an opportunity to explore my relationship with Angela – and her illness – and take some time to reflect. Liz was extremely adept at creating the right sort of supportive atmosphere for me to talk; she gave space for silence and also asked interesting questions, which led our conversation and my thoughts into many different directions. It was a fascinating and really useful experience – a bit emotional at times, but I had a hankie at the ready.
Liz has a wonderful relationship with her horses. It was lovely to see her handle them and groom them to help them shed their winter coat. Seeing her so at ease with them also gave me more confidence when they approached me. Of course, the irony in all of this is that Angela, so comfortable around these large beasts, would have found my tentativeness hilarious and would have chuckled at my nervous attempts to stroke Tom.
The memory of Angela’s sense of humour and enjoyment at teasing those of us – okay me – who tend to be a bit too pompous and self-important at times was just one of the things that flooded back to me during that session with Liz. For that I am truly grateful and think I will be heading up the hill again soon for another session.
Anyone wanting to know more about what Liz offers at Hearts and Hooves Connection Coaching can click here for a link to her website.
Angela, who would have turned 50 this month.
22nd April – World Earth Day 2021
Today poses the ideal time to review what we have been up to at Cae’r Bryniau, particularly with trees, and consider our future plans. This winter was a quiet bare root tree planting year – only ten and no hedges. The ten were: two greengages, a witch hazel, three yews, a wych elm, an aspen, two corkscrew hazels. The latter have been planted near the first hazels we planted – five years ago – which had their first proper catkins this February.
Instead of a huge amount of planting this winter, we decided to focus on clearing around the bottom of our other young trees and hedges and applying a thick mulch of bark. About six tons of bark was required… that’s a few wheelbarrow loads! Apart from lack of water (and the Anglesey wind), the main threat to young trees is getting swamped by grass, so mulching gives them a better chance.
We have just been given some more baby oaks and a crab apple by our lovely friends, Dave and Jan, so once we have had some proper rain they will need to be planted pdq! They are currently heeled in in one of the veg beds – along with 27 more baby oaks… which we got after applying to “Save the Oaks” through Sawdays. It is a great chance to rescue them, but it will be unusual to plant them so late. I hope that with some mychorrhizal fungi and lots of watering in we’ll be alright; although we may have to get some rabbit guards as Peter Rabbit has been spotted near the polytunnel on a few occasions in the early mornings. So far the chicken wire (to keep Old Speckled Hen out) has also foiled Peter, but you can never be too careful!
The extra oaks have made us have a re-think about bottom field – where the new meadow and large pond are. We will probably dot them around the edge of the field to create an oak glade and add some hazel in between them next winter. We already have a few oaks and hazels in that field – with their roots supposedly carrying truffle spores… we shall see!
We are watching the progress of our baby sea buckthorn and manuka bushes, planted last year, and if they grow well we may look to plant more of these in the future. When we finally get bees, the manuka would be fabulous and the sea buckthorn would add interesting diversity in this land of gorse and blackthorn. Where we have left areas to re-wild here, those are the two main shrubs which appear. Wild plum sometimes pops up and the occasional hawthorn, so if we want to increase the range of trees and shrubs, we need to plant them. At first we started off planting natives only in our wild patches, but we quickly realised that if we were happy to plant foreign fruit and nut trees (e.g. cherry and walnut), why not increase diversity with any tree or shrub that would be happy here. It won’t be everything that will cope with our “fresh” breezes, but we try to buy small, young specimens so they have a chance to acclimatise and get their roots deep down before they get too tall.
The Scots Pines, pictured here, were planted as tiny one year old whips (30 cm tall) five years ago. We have since inter-planted them with gooseberry and currant bushes – part of our fledgling forest garden scheme.
That’s the tree update for now. But we’ll sign off with a picture of a mature avenue of Scots Pines we saw at Ffin y Parc, near Llanwrst, the other weekend, with a bountiful amount of wild garlic about to burst into flower. Inspirational!