2020 round up
Well 2020 has most definitely not been the year any of us expected to have, but here in our little patch of Somerset things have not been too bad, relatively speaking. We have been very aware of how blessed we are to have space around us and a freezer full of home grown produce. Covid levels in the region have been consistently low and we sincerely hope they stay that way.
One happy happening back in late spring was the long awaited arrival of a hive of bees, working away around a brand new queen. Arriving just too late for this year’s fruit blossom, we hope to reap the benefits of having them next year. Our lovely bee-keeper keeps a close eye on them and patiently explains to us what they are up to. What began with an established swarm split into two swarms with a new queen chosen. The established swarm and queen were then taken off to another location leaving the younger one establishing itself here. Apparently they are doing exactly what was expected of them, it is very rewarding to spot honey bees around and about. They particularly love the borage that grows in the white garden. They also chose a particular corner of the pond for regular visits, and as anticipated, could be seen lining up on water lily leaves taking a drink.
Autumn will see the drones (male bees) unceremoniously kicked out of the hive, having now served their purpose of mating with the queen. The reduced colony will then cluster together as the weather gets colder. They will rarely leave the hive and keep warm by shuffling the warm central bees to the outside of the cluster, becoming slower as the temperature drops still further.
Our production of apple juice last autumn proved very successful. Delicious pasteurised juice has kept well and been much enjoyed by ourselves and our guests staying in the Old Stable, who find a chilled bottle in the fridge when they arrive.
The cider making has been rather more of a complicated process and the jury is out as to how successful it has been. Taste tests at the time of bottling were slightly disappointing - a little too acidic - but it has certainly improved with maturity. It has definitely been a steep learning curve. Certainly fellow cider makers in the North Devon and South Devon Cider making groups have proved very helpful. We could really do with a Somerset group though…
We thought we would be facing a dilemma this year, whether to outsource cider production to knowledgeable hands or continue with our own learning. Or perhaps a combination of the two. However, our paltry crop has made it a non-issue! Whether due to pruning or a late frost, we haven’t had the bumper crop that others have experienced and we have found it necessary to find a local orchard with little use for their apples to top up our own supplies. Mostly Browns and Annie Elizabeth varieties, we had a very productive apple day, producing some 165 litres of juice.
Life at the pond
After the high excitement of spotting three newts last year, we were desperate to see how many we’d have this year. Having looked day after day, whilst others were reporting having seen lots of new arrivals, we saw none. Until that was, I went out armed with a torch one evening as couldn’t believe my eyes. There were dozens! Every plant pot and plant itself had newts resting on them.
This in turn led to ‘newt safaris’ on many an evening, a time when clearly things happen in the pond. Newts, diving beetles, dragon flies, damselflies, water boatman, whirly gig beetles abound.
While there was no sign of adult toads or frogs, I was delighted to spot strings of toad spawn (identified as toad spawn rather than frog spawn, the latter of which appears in clumps of eggs, while toad spawn looks distinctly different, on long ribbons).
The resulting tiny tadpoles interestingly gathered together in one point of the pond edge. then daily they moved along a few feet, continuing the same routine daily, until they had reached the opposite side of the pond. Sadly, after about two weeks of shifting location, their numbers suddenly started to dwindle and in less than a week disappeared completely. Sadly for the tadpoles, they were seen as lunch for lots of the other beasts that frequent and live in the pond, including a couple of visiting mallards.
Meanwhile the long hot summer saw the water level drop significantly with the liner becoming exposed in places. Strips of old carpet were placed around the edges to protect it from damaging UV light. Not the prettiest solution, but it did the job and the grass has now grown over much of it. The yellow flag iris, bulrushes and an assortment of reeds have started to spread and the water lilies, water mint and water clover have self-seeded and are creating much more of the necessary surface cover, helping to keep the water largely clear from algae. I dug out, lined, refilled and planted up a bog garden alongside part of the pond, where hopefully spectacular gunnera will now be able to get established. They have now had to few months to get their roots in, so I am hoping for great things next year!
Although we have learned to live with them, rabbits have been a constant challenge for us and this year there were bumper numbers of Thumpers. However, nature being what it is, that seemed to bring its own solution. The regular ‘peeee-uu' call and the sight of the four-foot wingspan of three buzzards coincided with a significant reduction in the rabbit population. They have become daily visitors now, nesting in a neighbour’s trees and spending daylight hours over us.
In the woodland the trees are properly getting established now, though it does look a bit like a forest of plastic tubing sometimes. I intend to remove the tall plastic tubes that protect the young and vulnerable trunks and replace them with smaller clear spirals as soon as I can – some of the trunks, especially the silver birch and the wild cherry, are really beautiful and it’s a shame not to be able to see them properly. In the coppice the trees have really taken off and it is the first place where the tree canopies have spread, met and created dappled shade below. I can’t wait until all the woodland is like that.
Our plans to give a home to a couple of rescue donkeys have taken a large step forward in that the stabling and hard standing is now ready and waiting for them. However, Covid has slowed down the rehoming process by the Donkey Sanctuary and it will probably be some months yet before the sound of braying will be heard here.
Finally, the White Garden, inspired by the very same at Sissinghurst and Barrington Court, is now established. Grey days are now a bit brighter as the white flowers seem to glow in low light. More of that in later blogs…
Finally, as winter and the Christmas season approaches, we find ourselves back in lockdown. Don't forget to check out our little shop for some Christmas bargains in our 'Lockdown Sale'. Items can be posted out to you, or even gift-wrapped and sent directly to your friends and rellies. (Just send a message with your order if you would like them gift-wrapped and dispatched direct). Supporting small businesses means so much, especially at times such as this. When our High Streets open again, I hope that we will all make those tills ring with Christmas cheer.
(Photos by Helen Simmonds. Bees by S Clements. Dragon fly emerging by me!)