I feel rather like the early bird who has caught the worm. Last month I had noticed that out chickens were behaving strangely. Or rather more strangely than usual. In early January, and still in deep winter in anybody’s book, they had started laying heavily. They were supplying eggs much faster than we could use them and clearly though that the spring had arrived. They had started to create clutches and shown signs of going broody. This was an easy mistake for them to make as we had very mild temperatures and nothing really wintry at all.
This posed a dilemma. I had to decide in January whether I should put some of these eggs into the incubator for hatching. However, although I knew the hens thought spring had sprung I did not know if the cockerels had been infused with the vernal spirit and had sprung into action. If not, if the cockerels had correctly thought “This is still winter”, then I might be trying to hatch a clutch of unfertilised eggs. Not anticipating any miracle I decided to put a batch on and see what happened.
I needn’t have worried. The chickens determine the mating it seems. Cockerels don’t give a fig what time of year it is and they’ll happily mate all year round as the progeny above confirm. This is another unsettling sign that our seasons and are changing. It is not without consequence as I now have chickens born while the ground outside is better suited to building snowmen than scratching for food. I’ll need to rear these chicks indoors under a lamp for a considerable period before I can let them out. Let us hope they prosper despite the inopportune timing of their entry to the smallholding
We had a cold start to the day this morning and we have more promised to come. Though I was not too keen on this first thing today, when I had to break all the ice from the animals’ water troughs, I am generally glad to see the season behaving more like a normal winter. The cold snap reminded me that, while I had cut and collected enough timber for fuel, I have not split enough logs nor prepared enough kindling. So now I have my weekend planned.
I saw in the agricultural diary, when I was writing our log, that the Welsh proverb of the week is “Gaeaf Glas wna Fynwent Fras“. This can be translated as a harsh or cold winter will lead to full cemeteries. It reflects early awareness, of now scientific knowledge, that winter is the most dangerous season. Indeed the 7th of January is the day of the year on which more people die than any other. Possibly reflecting two factors : the first is the winter season itself, and the second may be the ability of people to hold on or persevere until after the Christmas period – slipping off the mortal coil at a more timely point.
Gaeaf Glas literally means a blue or green winter. Although now ‘glas’ is used to mean ‘blue’, earlier the celtic languages didn’t distinguish in words between blue and green and used ‘glas’ for both colours. This is why the “dear green place is called “Glasgow”. Now, in Cymraeg (welsh) we use glas for blue and gwyrdd for green and I am not sure that this is a step forward. Sometimes I think the prior situation may have been better.
At the moment we are trying to renovate our holiday let’s kitchen and this entails choosing the colour of the doors of the cabinets. You might imagine that this is an easy task. Think of a colour you like, blue, or green, or red, and decide on that colour. But unfortunately this does not work. I have now discovered that there are bluey-greens and greeny-blues, as well as greens that are too greeny. I have been asked to look at cards and select between sage green, pale verdigris green (which is gray), soft pastel mint green or soft duck egg green (which is blue). Once we have selected an apt green for the cabinets we can then open the big book of paint colours for the splash back. I think there are over 20 blues and greens in here.
I really have no hope of contributing to this debate. Indeed I don’t know why I bother, my wife will make the decision anyway. Not only can I not distinguish between these imperceptible shade differences (Imagine being asked which you prefer “magnolia” or “almond white” or “cream” ! They are all the same). But also there is the mystery of matching to come – “Do you think this brown picks up the brown in the carpet ? Or is it too reddy brown ? I have no hope of playing this game. I don’t know the rules and I am also wired wrongly. Studies have shown that men and women differ in what colour differences they can perceive and as a consequence men and women have different colour categories and nouns.
In this area I think expansion of categories is a hindrance rather than a boon and we should start a campaign for real colours. We would permit red, blue, green, yellow, purple and orange but suggest that all the other colours are simple figments of the home-decorating and furnishing industry and banned as fraudulent advertising. Although of a libertarian inclination this is one area in which I could support some increased legislation. Think of the marital disharmony it would prevent and the number of divorces that would be avoided. Think of the errors that could be avoided day-to-day – no longer could somebody be asked to get the taupe cardigan and make a mistake and get the gray one. Bliss.
The first snowdrops promising spring after the winter, the first swallow that may, or may not, make a summer, and the turning leaves of autumn – every season has its herald. For us we know winter is around the corner when we start to use the wood-burner in the kitchen again. We have, obviously, used the fires in the house in the evenings but this has been as a luxury, as a comfort, to give a focal point to the room in the evening. It is different to start the kitchen range in the morning. This is serious and utilitarian.
We don’t use the range routinely through the year. It produces a great deal of heat and in the summer it is oppressive. When we tried it was only possible to stay at the cooker if one was wearing swimwear. This is aesthetically unpleasing and, when frying bacon, seriously dangerous. So, through the summer, we have an electric induction hob and we content ourselves that we are a net producer of electricity. We are not self-sufficient in electricity as our solar system only works by being attached to the national grid but across the year we export more electricity than we consume.
Our problem with solar power is that we make lots of electricity wghen we don’t need it. When it is warm and sunny the kilowatts pour in but we can read, keep warm, and dry clothes without recourse to flipping a switch. We need the electricity when the sun has gone. We are looking at battery and hydro options but the initial outlay is very costly so we are still doing our sums about these. At this time of the year we switch to our second fuel source which is wood.
They say “wood warms you three times“; when you cut it, when you split it and when you burn it. I think this is an underestimate as it forgets the time when you have to heave the wood and move it about the place, bringing it to where it will be burnt. Also, it is at this time of year that you get that warm glow of smugness: the self-satisfied feeling that follows recognizing that, a year ago, you sweated and swore while splitting and stacking wood that is now dry and ready to be burnt. There is something quite special when you see that wisp of smoke above the house; you know the house is going to be warm, there will be food and warm water for a bath.
We normally try to have a full day of meals with our own produce when we start up the range. We have eggs first thing, soup for lunch (with our own produce) and then, today, roast lamb, roast beetroot, and green vegetables. Milk, yoghurt and cheese from our goats compliment the meals. Although we have to buy in the spices and any flours it is reassuring to have a civilized day without making any calls to outside providers. This is a good way to say goodbye to autumn and hello to winter, secure in the knowledge that the larder and freezers are full and the woodstores have been moved near the house in readiness. I think we are ready to see the snow.