“Your sheep have eaten all my beans, and I’m a little bit annoyed about it,” said the exasperated voice on our answerphone early on Sunday morning. It’s true that 16 lambs and their mothers ambled into our farmyard late on Saturday evening. I didn’t ask any questions. I was tired and simply opened the field gate and shut it behind them. I was impressed that they came home. I might have known that they would leave a calling card on their way. To be fair I would be equally upset if they’d eaten my veg patch.
I gathered together a peace offering – some freshly laid pullet eggs – and then unwound a couple of my bean plants as replacements, loading them onto Shrek. Bracing myself for a tirade I set off to apologise for my sheep’s misdemeanours. It was true. They had decimated the lower leaves on the bean plants as far up the poles as they could reach, (which was surprisingly high). The peas had clearly passed the taste test; they were obliterated. I found the grower busy fencing. I decided it wasn’t a good time to remind him that he’d said his fences were sheep proof. It was agreed that the culprits stay home for a while (time being a wonderful healer) and we left on amicable terms.
The resurgence in growing your own vegetables sparked by Covid-19 is one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic. I’ve long intended to grow more of our own vegetables but never quite got around to digging a suitable patch. However, when our resident horticulturist explained that I could do a no dig garden, I couldn’t wait to get started.
Under Hannah’s instruction, I mowed the area very short and saved up lots of cardboard. The latter wasn’t difficult because the youngsters in the family like nothing better than online shopping. Parcel deliveries large and small abound, generally packed in oversized cardboard boxes. We placed several layers of cardboard down and wet it. Next Nigel helped me to put sleepers around it and added a generous level of farmyard manure, followed by compost; Nigel went to our local green waste processing centre and fetched a trailer load. I suggested adding some soil but was told this would only encourage weeds. We watered the veg patch and hey presto, it was ready for planting.
I’m excited to be growing my own courgettes, leeks and lettuce (rabbit food as other half calls it). Alongside the new plot are potted tomato plants and beans growing next to the wall. I’m hopeful our homegrown tomatoes and lettuces will bring health benefits; they certainly taste good. Our strawberries haven’t done so well. Incidentally, I asked my daughter to straw them up and she asked if that was why they were called strawberries. The raspberries are bountiful, the fruit trees are laden, but the grass in the fields is sadly lacking which is worrying. Why, I wonder, is there never a bad year for weeds? Whatever the weather, they always seem to flourish. Hay and silage crops have been light; let’s hope the regrowth will give us an opportunity to get another cut. The winter fodder and bedding supplies are going to be tight. The cattle grazing on the Pevensey levels are looking good despite the abundance of flies and sparse grass. The little family of cygnets on the old haven are doing well, but give me a hard stare when I’m checking cattle. I’ve seen fewer swallows around this year, but numbers of buzzards and red kite are increasing. I never heard the cuckoo this year, which is disappointing.
Our lambs have had their second immunisation and been wormed. I’m keen to take Cliffe Farm Vet Nanja’s advice and wean early this year. The ewes will be glad to get their fleeces off. I have total respect for all shearers in the light of my efforts at shearing a handful of Hoggets. One a day is my limit. I asked yesterday’s client if she would like grade one, two or three. It turned out to be a mixture of all three. Still, they say variety is the spice of life. I’m glad no one was watching our technique, because there did seem to be a lot of close contact with the hogget and ground for both of us. We were equally relieved when the job was done.
I’d like to ask the 14 men who sit on the wool board what their strategy is, and where the key initiatives aimed at raising the profile and sales of wool are. Farmers receive a pittance for their fleeces. Wool is an amazingly versatile, strong, insulating, and fire retardant natural fibre. Why is it so undervalued? Could more joined up thinking be needed between farmers, processors and designers?
Where is the forward thinking and diversity amongst those on the wool board? Is the infrastructure in place to give the modern consumer what they want, which is environmentally friendly, sustainable, transparently produced and locally sourced products? We need to galvanise more support for wool and get the message out there; it’s cool to use wool.
Wool has so many uses, including woollen coffins, but I’m not quite there yet. However I love my woollen winter and summer combination duvets; super cosy, and there’s no overheating as there is with synthetic duvets. Wool filled pillows are comfortable. As for socks, wool is definitely the way forward. Other half has tried several different types claiming to be hard wearing; they develop holes in less than three weeks and end up as rags, while his woollen ones are still going strong.
My hanging baskets are lined with wool, which looks lovely and retains the moisture. It’s also reported to deter slugs. Compost incorporating wool claims to retain 50% more water. Our hedgerow plants with daggings around the roots have thrived; we’ve had higher losses in those that weren’t planted the same way. For the surfers amongst you, wool is used in surfboards and in lining wetsuits.
Positivity and revival is needed within the wool industry. There are a lot of initiatives out there. A new ‘women with wool’ Facebook group has interesting ideas. Gareth Wyn Jones has put out a good video entitled The True Cost of Wool. Rampisham Hill farm in Dorset is hoping to get funding to set up a wool processing mill in 2021 which will be able to wash wool, card it into batts or spin it into yarn on behalf of customers. Southeast England Fibreshed is another group working on creating a directory to make it easier for those working with wool to connect. There is hope; we just need to work together.