When I first started this blog, it was about two things: Dickie, my little blue Subaru, and gardening. I was never much into gardening when I was young – always much more interested in reading and writing and that sort of thing. But when we moved to the farm, I decided I wanted to try my hand at vegetable growing. So my dad made me a pair of raised beds out of old railway sleepers and got me a little greenhouse that every time a storm struck, all the glass blew out of. True to my bookworm roots I bought loads of books on veg growing and started out. The first year was quite successful, the second year somewhat so, and then the third year I had moved into my house and my weekends seemed to get filled up doing other things. Mum kept the beds going, but I hadn’t manured either of them since the beginning and our land is sandy, hungry land that doesn’t do much on its own.
It was World Book Day and if I was dressing up as someone out of literature I think I would have to be the Yorkshire Shepherdess, what with all the farming and such. We were up at the farm feeding up and tidying up and went to pick up a new calf, bringing our total to 7 (including the one with her mother). Only 3 are on milk so that’s not too bad. Where the calves are there is no running water so I have to lug a great drum of hot water about and it’s no easy task. My arms ache, especially when I can’t open the gate because the pin is too stiff for me, I can’t lift said drum over it because I’m too short, so instead I wedge it through the biggest gap in the fence I can find. It’s an ordeal, but looking after calves is my favourite bit so far so I don’t mind.
I think the Yorkshire Shepherdess is a fine person to look up to, and she’s certainly more relevant to World Book Day than the kid my mum saw in a Chelsea kit. The Chelsea Annual? Mmm, I think that’s pushing it a bit. Whenever I’m up at the farm and it’s chucking it down or I’m tired or struggling (read most days), I think to myself what would the Yorkshire Shepherdess do, and I find a reserve of strength (aka desperation) and I get on with it. I’m usually told off later for doing something wrong but I’m sure there are worse things that could happen.
But we all know farming isn’t my big interest. Oh, no. The big thing is the writing thing.
I have 3 weeks to finish my first book in my self-imposed deadline, in time for the How to Get Published conference at the York Literature Festival. I have about 12-15 chapters left to write, depending on how fast I can write/how ruthless I can be. Considering I’ve just written Chapter Twenty-Seven, which in my previous draft corresponded to Chapter Forty-Five, I don’t think I’ve done too bad in my cutting frenzy. It’s hard to fit writing in alongside everything else there is to do: the farm, feed calves, keep the house clean, do washing, rush about getting clothes in when it rains, cook tea, endless reams of washing up, panic about money and how I’m going to pay bills. I’m also going to be starting to work again come April, and before that there’s lambing to worry about. I stuck to my 500 words a day goal, but I think I might have to up it to at least 1500 a day, just so I can get some text down.
Part of developing as a writer is of course being a reader. I love reading – always have done, always will do. I studied Literature at uni at undergraduate and postgrad levels, have filled three houses up with books. As an only child, reading was a way to occupy myself when there was nobody about to play with (until I got a Gameboy, and then catching Pokemon was so much more exciting, but even then, I think I enjoyed reading the strategy guide more than playing the actual game). Reading seemed to naturally lead to writing. When I didn’t have my own stories and characters in my head, I rewrote existing stories, an exercise that helped me in turn appreciate story arcs, purpose and intent.
Being currently a frugal writer on a strict budget, there’s no space for book buying. Saying that, I did go to the second hand bookshop in Pickering a few weeks ago and buy two of Terry Brooks’s Shannara books (can anyone tell me if Book 1 is essential, as I’ve heard it’s vastly different to the subsequent two?). As part of my Goodreads Challenge I’m trying to read books I already have. In my early twenties, while most girls frittered their money away on posh makeup and going out dresses and holidays here, there and everywhere, little old me spent hers on books, music and car insurance. Hence why I can fill three houses with books and CDs and part a car at each house. Not that Millie the Puma can move at the moment.
I know some people see reading as a waste of time, but the same could be said for watching TV, movies, sitting on Facebook. I use reading in a similar way that I write: for a moment, an evening, half an hour in the bath, I can completely forget my own silly little life and petty problems, and immerse myself in other peoples’ lives. Stories touch us in different ways and there are some books that I feel have changed my life, or my viewpoint, or have opened my eyes – The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, If This is a Man by Primo Levi, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, plus countless others. I’ve read His Dark Materials at so many different points in my life and each time it speaks to me in a different way, a huge accomplishment for what is often simply categorised as a children’s book.
Also, so excited about Philip Pullman’s next series about Lyra!
When I have a child, alongside that child running around outside, playing and learning, understanding the importance of time, and money, and kindness, and gratitude, I will spend time reading with them. I have my mother’s set of Narnia books that she had as a girl and those will go to this as yet imaginary child. And of course if writing is to be (as I hope) my occupation, I’d like my child to understand the worth of that, and the importance of imagination, even if they have no desire to write (which is OK too).
So books are important, yay? I have big plans to make a study/library in Grandad’s house, and that will be my writing cave, where behind closed doors, the magic will (hopefully) happen.
A million years ago, I started this blog with the catchy title of notmuchofayoungfarmer. This was a play on words because I was a member of our local Young Farmers’ group, lived on a farm, and knew diddly squat about farming. It’s one of those commonly-known but never spoken of truths that if you join Young Farmers and aren’t an avid tractor man or a shepherd, it’s a way of meeting the opposite sex. I went along to the meetings, got roped into stock judging, and then life caught up with me, and I was doing a Masters and working in Hull, and it just didn’t compute. So I sacked Young Farmers off and embarked on an ill-fated quest to become a teacher. That didn’t last long either.
Hmm. Seeing a trend…
Moving swiftly on!
My blog was to be a support for my writing. However by a stroke of luck or fate or whatever, I find that I’ve boxed up my court shoes and smart skirt suits and have swapped them for wellies and jeans covered in mud. Looks like I’m back to being a Young Farmer, and probably too old to rejoin.
I still don’t know anything about farming, but I now know what a tup is, and what it means when the sheep in the fields have coloured bottoms, and I’m starting to get my head around the different breeds of cows, and when it’s correct to say cow and not something else.
Personal highlights from the farm include:
- Getting stuck halfway up Grimston hill in a pickup without diesel, and then being rescued by some kindly gentlemen in a white van – whoever you are, thank you!
- Also that same week, locking my car keys in the boot and having to bang on doors until a kindly family down the road let me use their phone! It’s a bugger when there’s no phone signal.
- Seeing our Angus heifer calve to a beautiful baby Hereford x! I think that’s the first thing I’ve seen brought into the world before my very eyes, and by the time we’d got there she’d done most of it herself. She’s a grand little calf with real stunning markings.
- Bucket-feeding our other three calves and now they’re weaned off and are big strong lads.
- Getting our tractor! She’s a Case International and is a little nippy four wheel drive thing which suits us just fine, though I do bang my head on every piece of metal in the cab.
It is hard. I’m only little and not particularly strong, and while I am getting a bit stronger, I still struggle to lug 25kg bags of feed about. And before we got the tractor, it was bloody hard work getting bails of straw and hay down off the great piles for the cattle with just us two, a fence post for leverage and the pickup for the most stubborn bails. And let’s be honest, when you’re chopping fodder beet in the pouring rain and Arctic blast, it’s not that fun. I get muddy by just looking at the yard, my car stinks of mucky wellies, and my arms ache for days, but when everything’s fed and watered, and bedded up, and the yard is blissfully quiet, and the little calf is bouncing around her mother, it isn’t a bad place to be at all.
I will update with more of our adventures as they come.
So Christmas has been and gone, and so has New Year. Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. My mother said when I was little I used to get so excited I would make myself poorly. And when I was a little bit bigger we went to Lapland one Christmas to really ramp up the festive authenticity – which was possibly spoiled when Father Christmas wasn’t at his grotto and then when he visited the hotel he gave me a game of Twister to play with all my non-existent brothers and sisters.
This year you might have thought, what with me leaving my job in November, I would have had all the time in the world to prepare for Christmas and really make it the best Christmas ever. Yet I hardly managed to do any of my traditions, to the point where on Christmas week I made both my roulade and a Yule Log in a bit of a rush. The roulade was a bit of a disaster: one of the eggs cracked so yolk got into the whites and they didn’t fluff up like they should, and then my cooker burnt it down one side yet leaving the other side perfect. All the same, it tasted light and chocolatey, but we didn’t eat it fast enough so the cream went to cheese. But since it got Scott’s approval I think I shall make another.
I left my job to focus on my writing and to get on with the move to my Grandad’s house, but also to support Scott at the farm while he was working full-time. Now that he’s driving on an as-and-when self-employed basis, we’ve been able to really get on with the farm and make some decent progress. I’m still learning and am probably more of a hindrance than a help, but with such short days at this time of year, it’s hard to fit everything in and get all the jobs done.
I still managed to do some Christmas shopping and get for everyone. I went to the Country Living Christmas Fair in Harrogate with my mum and with Scott’s mum as well, and we had a really lovely day. I had saved up for Christmas all year so I didn’t feel too guilty about spending money despite not earning anything at the moment.
Across the festive break, Scott’s favourite phrase has been “it’s just another day to me” – be it in relation to Christmas, New Year’s, or whatever. And for farming, and a lot of other industries, that’s absolutely true. There are still animals to feed, water troughs to top up, calves to feed twice a day, and to bed up if necessary. But I spent years working on Christmas anyway when I worked at the pub in our village, so I am well aware that the world doesn’t stop for one day.
And now we’re here, in 2017. How time has flown! Despite it not being the Christmas I might have known – waking up in my own little house instead of at my mum and dad’s, not going to Midnight Mass, not going on our Boxing Day walk with the doggies – it has still been a wonderful Christmas I’ve spent with those that I love and cherish, all the while missing those whose chairs were absent at our table.
After a weekend away, I’ve been back in my garden.
It’s nearly March. March is the biggie month – the start of it all! ‘Spring’ is just around the corner, and things start heating up – hopefully figuratively and literally!
I’ve filled my greenhouse up with trays of sown seeds… as yet not much is happening. So far I’ve sown:
- Various kinds of tomato (moneymaker, Ailsa Craig, sun gold, black cherry)
- Leeks (I got free with my subscription to Kitchen Garden magazine)
- Ailsa Craig onions, as recommended by DT Brown
- Red Baron onions, which as the name suggests, are red onions!
- All year round cauliflowers
- And some cayenne peppers from seed, which Nana kindly gave to me, though with a warning that they were a little out of date, and should be sown with a pinch of salt.
So far, not much has happened, except…
I made a vlog! Check it out:
Who knew I had such a strong Yorkshire accent? Looking back at my video, I laughed for about half an hour over how I pronounced ‘greenhouse’. Anyway! This video seems to chiefly be about my cauliflowers. Here’s a pic of them!
Whoa! Look at these bad boys! I counted, and I have 29 cauliflower seedlings! These, added to the two strong cauliflower plants that have overwintered on the bed itself, bring me up to 31 of the vegetable! Now, if you read my blog last year, you will recall that I had an issue with cauliflowers…
They all got eaten! They came on great, grew to a couple of inches high, and then I sowed by them some infected radish, or maybe there was already something nasty in the soil. Either way, a whole crop of radish, turnip and my cherished caulis were wiped out by nasty horrid maggotty things. Many tears were shed!
So this year I’m doing things proper. I’ve got my cabbage collars. Those pesky bugs aren’t getting anywhere near my brassicas! I’ve bought netting and all sorts. Last year was a trial run. This year it’s serious stuff!
What have you guys started at the moment? Have you got any seedlings coming up yet?
I’ve been a bad blogger of late! I don’t think I’ve made a post in about a month – but I do have a perfectly legitimate reason! This September I started my teacher training course, and have been commuting to Leeds through the week, so when I’ve not been absolutely exhausted from the drive, I’ve had a huge pile of assignments to plough through. And now that I’ve got a placement school, I’ll soon have teaching to focus on! So not only has my blog been neglected, but so has my garden!
As a quick break though from uni work (lesson planning and progression maps and lesson objectives and differentiation……) I hacked around in my beds for a while, and then took some photos. If you look at the top photo, you can see my two beds in the centre and to the left – but what’s that, to the right? That metal frame? Could it be… the base to a greenhouse?!
To recap! It was our annual village show a couple of weekends ago, and so I abandoned all uni work in order to dig up all my carrots, beetroots, onions and whatever else I could find in order to enter everything. As a first time grower my expectations were not high.
OK, that’s a lie. My expectations were very high, and thus were dashed on the ground like a spilled tray of something small and seedy. Which sounds quite dodgy. But basically, the standards in my village are so high, potentially because most of the other contenders are, ah, how can I say it? ‘More mature’, with many more years’ experience of growing stuff.
As it stands now, my beds are looking a bit bare and unloved. (Hmm, there’s a pun in there somewhere!)
Look how scruffy the edge looks! There’s another job to do…
Mum kindly planted out a load of leeks for me a few weeks ago, and my previously caterpillar-stripped kale have fluffed up again, so they look nice and bountiful again. I then sowed a load of cabbages, cauliflowers (second time’s a charm?), some more kale (because I looove it) and some fancy sprouting broccoli that doesn’t really look like broccoli. So the left hand bed may look a bit sad but it is full of potential!
This is the “chard” bed – they seem to be HUGE in the left side and not so huge in the right side. Hmmm…
Different story in the right bed. I had let a few chards go to seed and they went out of control, so today I hacked them up and the last of the lettuces. That bed is now full of about three rows of rainbow/rhubarb chard, and a few rangy carrots. Looks like we’ll be living on chard and kale through the winter!
I do have plans for that bed, somewhere, in the back of my mind, when I have a minute. Those plans are in a similar sort of dreamworld that involves revamping my blogs and recolonizing the sewing room as my study once again. Is that a flying pig?!
Oh no, wait! It’s a snoring Bilbo!
I also discovered some little surprises when I was weeding, and while I know some people will cry “weeds! weeds, dig them out!” I thought they were too lovely, and so have left them in.
What is the greatest moment for a trainee gardener, starting out? After all that hardwork, digging and shovelling manure and topsoil, stamping the plot down and raking it over and over, and then setting up my trays, planting teeny tiny little seeds in their little modules, I have some rewards!
If you look really closely, you can see the tiny little buds! These are my salad leaves.
The sense of pride and achievement I felt I think was greater than anything else!
And a few days later, they started springing up everywhere!
So I have begun starting my seeds off! Mum showed me properly how to do my trays. As you can see here, they’re only half full, so I’m about to drop my seeds in.
So far, dead pleased with my green-fingered efforts!
I have so far done: mixed salad leaves, spinach, radish, beetroot and courgette (the latter of which I don’t have the greatest of faith in – I think it’s too early), plus the freebie tomato seeds I got in the propagator.
These are all now to go in the cloche!
After erecting the cloche, which was so straightforward I’m sure I’ve not done it right, we picked a nice sunny spot to start them off! Also in the cloche are a few plants I bought, ready sprouting: onions, mangetout, and broccoli. Mum also put her sweetpeas in to fill it up.
And here we have it! My babies! So pleased. Just got to wait and see if anything happens now…