It almost looks as though it could be drying up a little now after so many wet days.  I don’t think we have had a dry twenty-four hours since November, so we are hoping for good Easter weather – I think we all deserve it!

Our biomass boiler (wood-chip) is keeping us lovely and cosy – now that the weather has turned a bit colder over the past couple of weeks and the B&B guests who have stayed since Christmas really appreciate the house always being warm whatever time of day they come in.  We have been officially accepted as “self-suppliers” of our own woodchip, and I think we may be slightly unusual in that quite a number of wood-chip boiler owners do buy in their chips.  We feel that we are truly self-sufficient and sustainable.  We were also the first boiler that the installers had done which has the chip-store above the boiler.  We first saw this done in Austria, when we visited friends there just over ten years ago, and felt it was the way forward for us.

Everyone enjoys the home-made Granola, and particularly popular is the berry compote I make using our own frozen fruits – raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and blackberries – a little taste of summer in winter!!  I vary the ingredients each day, and sometimes make a Norwegian recipe, where the fruit is pushed through a sieve, sweetened and then thickened slightly with cornflour.  You can feel it doing you good as you eat it!

We now have a newly refurbished private bathroom, for the use of the Apple Tree room or the Library room – it has a large walk-in shower with a digitally operated shower, all newly decorated and with a smart new floor covering.

The tomato plants, grown from seed, are about 2 inches high, and are in the warmth of the Breakfast room, until they are large enough, and the weather is warm enough for them to go out in the greenhouse.  It always astounds me each year how these tiny little plants turn into huge monsters producing buckets of tomatoes, within a few short months, lots for you to enjoy here at Hillhead Farm!

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Some of our lovely guests have just booked again to stay later on in the summer.  It’s always great to see people again, and we are always making little improvements, so that each stay is kept fresh in our guests’  minds.

In the previous blog, I wrote about the arboretum that we have created. A couple of larger trees have made it look more arboretum-like, and the grass has grown, along with many wild flowers.  Due to the dry weather we have needed to water the newly planted trees quite frequently, but it’s a very pleasant task to potter around with a watering can, checking on how things are growing.

So, we now have a beautiful spot for anyone who would like a gentle stroll, to wander through the meadow flowers along the mown paths.  I was very excited to find yellow rattle growing in profusion there.  It is a parasitic plant which attaches itself to the roots of some grasses, feeding off them and reducing the vigour of the grass, which means less grass to mow!  This is a plant which is found in ancient hay meadows – we have no idea how it came to be there, as far as we know it wasn’t there before, magic!!

It has extended the garden’s immediate surroundings, from the end of the Walled Garden, and makes for a more interesting  visit to our garden.

The beautiful South Devon countryside encircles this peaceful spot, and the view of Ugborough’s massive Church tower, rising almost 100 feet above the Village is well worth the short walk.

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After some amazing weather this week, we now seem to have gone into reverse towards winter again!  Temperatures of 26degrees C were noted locally on Wednesday, which is quite ridiculous for the time of year!  It’s a wonder the nesting birds and the trees and flowers know what to do next, but amazingly everything just seems to get on with it, and leaves are unfurling day by day.

I saw the first bluebells today, it’s always the same place that I see them first, on a South-facing bank on a very high hedge of a sunken road.  The primroses are pouring from the hedges, looking just beautiful, despite it having been very dry for about three weeks.

This year we have started an arboretum, probably a rather grand name for a small paddock with some teeny-weeny little trees in it!  But mighty oaks from little acorns grow, as they say!  Some trees we have bought, there are a few fruit trees, and many that I have grown from seed (those are the teeny-weeny ones!) we do plan to put in a few bigger ones to steal a bit of a march on time, because with both of us in our 60′s, it would be nice to see a few slightly larger trees filling up the space.  If in about 30 years time they are looking a bit close together – well, it won’t be our problem!!

Even though the evenings are a bit chilly, the house is lovely and warm with our fantastic biomass (woodchip) boiler.  The previous winter wasn’t cold enough to really put it through its paces, but since Christmas, it has been quite cold, so we’ve really felt the benefit.  Every room is controlled separately, so you can adjust the heat to your own requirements.  So you can really be sure of a warm welcome in both senses of the word – even though it’s a bit of a cliché!

 

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Last weekend saw a hive of activity here at the farm, with many entries for the Village produce Show.  David and I had a good day, winning best in Show for David’s onions and best Floral Art for my Dahlias.  We were both really delighted and came home with three cups, several rosettes and a sheaf of prize cards!

On your arrival, you will often be given some of my prize-winning flapjacks, and the prize-winning marmalade and jams are always served at breakfast.  August and September usually sees raspberries served for breakfast too!  Again, prize-winners, they are huge and lovely and sweet and juicy.  We always grow the Autumn fruiting type, and the variety we like is called “Joan Jay”.  The flavour of home-grown tomatoes is nothing like the bought variety, and they are at the peak of flavour now, having had such a good summer with lots of sun and grown in good organic soil!

Life on the farm is not always a bed of roses, however, as yesterday when helping David and my daughter, Shelley, load some lambs in to the trailer, the sheep decided to make a run for it. Despite us jumping up and down and the dogs all barking – they ran out from the corner of the field, where we had them penned up, and one ran smack into the side of my leg, knocking me flying, and causing a hefty sprain to my knee.  Nothing broken, but it’s very painful and swollen – I think I’m being retired from shepherding duties for the immediate future!

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After a good summer in 2013, it seems we are lucky again this year! Even though we have had some rain recently, it has only been in the form of showers, and has still been warm, jumpers and socks being a thing of the past (and future)!

For the farm this has meant a good crop of silage for winter feed for the cattle and sheep, and some lovely sweet hay. The barley is not quite ripe yet, but we will be combining it within the next couple of weeks hopefully.

One downside of good weather is the animals being bothered by gad-flies, we give them lick-buckets containing garlic which does help.

The greenhouse is being very productive with masses of lovely tasty tomatoes which I am serving for breakfast, and we have just started picking the autumn fruiting raspberries (early this year) which I serve with yogurt. Fresh peaches were available a few weeks ago and we are now having fresh figs from the garden. If you’ve never tasted fresh figs, they are completely different from the dried sort!

The bees on the farm are very busy, and the flowers in the garden attract hundreds of bumble-bees as well as the honey-bees, and many other insects, which are beneficial to all our crops, allowing us to live harmoniously with nature.

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The hoggs (see previous Blog) are lambing now, bit by bit!  David has just had to assist one this evening, it was huge, and the sheep would not have managed to lamb on her own.  They are mostly sired by a Zwartbles (no I’m not sure how to pronounce it either!) ram which we borrowed, and they are less woolly than most of our usual lambs, more like thick teddy bear fur.  It’s very glossy, and they are really attractive little lambs.

The beech tree which is visible from the Beech Tree room, is now in full leaf, and is looking beautiful, having been crown lifted (lower branches cut) by Edd (our son)  This has improved the view as well as the shape of the tree.  The apple tree beyond the window of the Apple Tree room is completely laden with blossom this year, and is absolutely buzzing with bees.  We have three hives on the farm and honey from them is available for breakfast.  It’s a very delicate floral honey, and won a prize at Kingsbridge Show in 2013.

The cattle are all out now on their Summer pasture, while we wait for the grass to grow in the silage and hay fields.  It’s a wonderful time of year with everything coming up in the vegetable garden, and the promise of things to come.  One mustn’t count one’s chickens etc. etc. but the peach tree is looking very well endowed so far!  Peaches for breakfast anyone?

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Unlike “Lambing Live” on the telly, who are right in the thick of it, we have finished lambing our main flock, with only about a dozen “hoggs” as they are known, to go.  These are not pigs, which would be “hogs”(!), but last year’s ewe lambs, lambing for the first time.  Because of their age, they are given a little longer before we put the rams in, so that they can mature.  They are usually somewhat scatty, and quite often very surprised to have produced a lamb!  Others are instantly maternal, much like humans, I suppose!

It’s very amusing to see the lambs running around the fields chasing each other, like children in a playground.  They leap in the air, twisting like ice-skaters, and mostly landing back on four feet, but one had a shock when we were feeding them yesterday afternoon, and landed right in the water trough!  We didn’t notice it do it, but were alerted by it’s pathetic bleating, and hauled it out!

Our four tame (bottle-fed) lambs, are now down to two feeds per day, instead of four, and I know we have guests coming for Easter, who are hugely looking forward to helping feed them.

 

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We have had some gorgeous days, with warm sunshine, birds singing and bees buzzing in the blue rosemary flowers.  But, just in case it gets colder at night, fear not, because our wood-chip (biomass) boiler is running like a dream, and keeping us lovely and cosy with plenty of hot water!

We light the wood-burner in the sitting room for our guests just for the look of it, because the room is warm anyway – and you’ll be able to sit there with a welcome cup of tea and slice of cake just as soon as you’ve got your cases stashed in your room.

At the moment, when you look out of the window towards the walled garden, you can see the pink peach blossom in the greenhouse – dreams of juicy peaches in the summer!  We picked about a hundred peaches in 2013, and I often served them freshly-sliced for breakfast.

We have lambs a-plenty now, with several to bottle feed each day, and only a few still to give birth now.  It’s great to see the lambs playing in the fields, running around chasing each other, while their mums look on indulgently!

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Welcome to our new blog

As the weather continues to surprise us with it’s indecisiveness, the house, with it’s new energy-efficient woodchip boiler, is very cosy on these cooler nights. There’s plenty of hot water as well, for those guests who want a long soak after a bracing walk on the South Devon Coast Path or Dartmoor.

This week’s finer weather has seen us cutting grass for hay, but we do need it to stay sunny to “make” the hay properly.

We are looking forward to a bumper crop of tomatoes in the greenhouse, I aim to be completely self-sufficient for the guests’ breakfasts from about the second half of July and right through the Autumn.

This week I made 16 jars of organic orange and lemon marmalade, I have to admit that it didn’t set as well as sometimes, but it’s a beautiful colour and tastes great!  I tend to make about four batches a year, I’m not keen on Seville orange marmalade, so I’m not bothered about making it in January when the Seville oranges are cheaper – I just make it when I need it.

We have had some glorious weather recently, just right for the bees which arrived a couple of weeks ago, their owner, Nick, is very pleased with their progress, and the local Beekeepers Association is coming to the farm on Saturday, as part of a “hive crawl” (my term, not theirs!) a bit like a pub crawl, but looking at hives rather than drinking beer!  So that will be something to look forward to with interest.

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