Friday, 6 December 2013

Radioactive Food... Yum!

The boy and the girl have been sickly and at home. Fortunately the illness was more soaring temperatures, lethargy and a cough rather than the gastro-thing that is doing the rounds. As of this evening, I think we are all mended. Phew!

The main baby-sitter during this period has been the telly. Normally we Archer-parents are mean with the goggle box; rationing the kids to Saturday and Sunday night TV, but during sickly times the TV is a welcome distraction.

Boy had been watching an old sci-fi film yesterday about a black hole in space and robots, c. 1960, I was in the kitchen finding stuff to tempt his appetite when he wandered in in his PJ's.

'What's gammon? he enquired.

Pleased that he might be interested in a ham dinner with potatoes, cheese sauce and broccoli, I began the Wiki-version of gammon and other lush pork cuts. Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall, Nigel Slater and Adam Henson would all have been so proud.

At the end of my monologue he looked dazed, confused and in need of more ibuprofen.

'Why would it be radioactive then? he asked.

Ohhhhhhh..[lightbulb]........ Gamma!

Moral: We must be sure of the question, before we give the answer. My friend once frightened the bee***us out of her young triplets when they asked a vague question about babies. Turns out they were really only interested in a vague notion of the subject and didn't need the technical terms. A week later and the same mum overheard an indignant conversation between two mums at the school gates, whose children had also picked up the bio-speak a year or two early.... whoops.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Summer Holiday Ideas - Trevella Holiday Park, Cornwall: The verdict

As you may know, I was offered a four night stay at Trevella Park in Cornwall for last half term..... It was a dreamy assignment.

The verdict from both the mums and the kids was: Absoloooootely brilliant. We will be booking again and may well enrol the sproglets in some surfin' school activity next summer..... The mums, meanwhile, will be readin' books and eatin' pasties. Yum!

Trevella Park facilities are just what is required. The caravans are spotlessly clean and were fab for our gang of 7 and 3 mums: We booked 3 caravans which was perfect as we felt like we were on tour as we debated where to eat breakfast or dinner, (breakfasts were momumental affairs but dinners were mainly take-aways from the Chinese, Domino's and Morrisons, - well, the mums were on hols too y'know!)

The caravans were warm and toasty thanks to the heaters in every room (too hot sometimes) and the TV was a god-send for those evening when the sea-air had taken its toll. The beds were comfy and the kitchen was better stocked than at home, though I missed the dishwasher and would probably pay more for a caravan if one was available!

All in all, it was the best time ever and though the weather was changeable and the mud relentless, it only stormed at night and, as you can see from our photos, our days were gorgeous. We escaped Cornwall on the Friday before the big, BIG storm battered the UK but we understand Trevella Park was largely untouched.

Book now if you fancy a holiday for next year. When we were there in October, the reception phone was ringing off the hook with bookings for 2014!

Review care of The Archers At The

Check out other reviews of the Park here 

Crabbing at Padstow

Bubblegum ice-cream at Padstow

Lobster Hatchery Padstow

THE most gorgeous smelling candle factory
(Boy clearly impressed)
A must in my stocking for Christmas

Trevella: Arming sproglets... wrong on so many counts
(Boy still impressed)
Highwaymen hold up Domino's Pizza driver
Beach babe... in October!!!
Crowded!!! Cornland Beach..... Fab weather

Eden Project - a brilliant (if expensive) day out

Tea bushes at Eden Project
What is it with this girl and ice-cream?

Brain freeze!

Pumpkin carving at Eden

Recycling display at Eden featuring The Archers at The Larches.... so famous!

Half Term ideas at Trevella Park

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Half Term Ideas: Trevella Park, Cornwall....

I'm an organised goddess this school year. Gaze at me in awe, never have I been more ahead of the game....... if it lasts till Chrimbo I'll be gobsmacked. All the children's clothes are labelled, we haven't forgotten a guitar, sports match, Birthday. I've pre-booked dinner parties, Birthday parties, Christmas hols AND I've even MADE a Nigella inspired Christmas Cake which I feed weakly weekly. I am Superwoman by Shirley Conran (incidentally, do you remember your mothers all raging about how good this book was in the '70s? I'm determined to read it, needing tips on household management... 1p on Amazon!)

My zen-like skills were honed during the summer when the sproglets and I camped with two other mums and their broods. Having planned, and that my friend is the key; planning! having planned to camp during week 1 and 2 of the hols we were chilled, relaxed, content, smug even.


There was no one about, it was fantastic. The sproglets played, chatted, laughed and the mums drank wine, explored intellectual subjects such as the latest top gadgetry from Lakeland, Ikea food and the reason why Bodin continually send costly catalogues in the post, even though we just light our fires with them.... Y'know, imponderables...

Anyhoo, I have since been determined to continue with my euphoria of forward bookings, ensuring a vague sense of control rather than the surprised look I seemed to have all last year. So I was delighted when Trevella Park in Cornwall enquired whether we intrepid Archers might consider a stay in a Luxury Caravan for our half term holiday.

Would we? Yes in-deedy.

Close to Newquay Beach and its quaint seaside town, Trevella offers a beautifully appointed site from which to explore Cornwall. From May to September it boasts a heated swimming pool, though in October I think we'll be more interested in blustery walks along the beaches and rock pool adventures. There's an Adventure Playground on site and, for those in need of the outside world (not I) Wi-Fi is on tap. For those keen on fishing their two fishing lakes offer a challenge and for the softer hearted the Pets Corner is just the ticket.

It was a bit tricky to find a house, alpaca, sheep, cat, chicken sitter for half term (and not at all easy to say) but I've done that too. Sighs smugly. So we are set.

Having bragged at school about our intrepid adventure I feel there may be a convoy to Trevella Park... thank gawd we're already booked in.

Right, I'm off to read all the paperwork now and check out the 50 Inspiring Activities suggested by Trevella in Cornwall.... may be a bit of a stretch for 4 days but hey, we're up for the challenge. Eden Project here we come.

Thursday, 19 September 2013



I'm not often lippy but the poultry auction makes me nervous. It's not the birds, it's the Welsh fella. I went there today to collect the wages of the 10yo, following the sale of her Salmon Faverolles. If you haven't read about the poultry auction or if you need some serious (not) tips about conducting yourself at a poultry auction, click here.

My nervousness was well founded. I strode into the vast, chilly shed this morning, determined to be a grown up. I was dressed decently enough in my autumnal grey poncho, (the one that drank my coffee that other time, leaving me with Damp Tassles....sheesh!) and my high-heeled brown boots. Obviously that wasn't all I was wearing. [Shakes head in disbelief] I'm trying to tell you that I was looking serious; Marks and Spencery.

I couldn't see the Welsh fella anywhere, I think he's a poultry dealer, but in order to decrease a chance encounter I studied the caged birds intently. Close to the Indian Runner duck section I heard an unmistakable lilt of Welsh calling to me.

'Pardon me?' I foolishly enquired, turning to see the twinkly rogue standing with his pals.

'You get that poncho from Clint Eastwood see?'


'Clint Eastwood - Poncho.'

'Yes, as a matter of fact I did.' I replied hotly. 'And I'm packing under here, so watch it!' Bring it ohnnnn.. I can do gun-slinging analogies with the best of them. So there!

His friends nudged him, giggling.

'Oh,' he said smirking, shifting his position slightly from the rail he was leaning on. 'Lift up your cape then and we'll 'ave a look...'


[Exit blushing blonde stage-right....]

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Village Show... Queen of the Peas.

It's tricky if you don't read the exam question correctly. So it was with my horticultural entry for the village show this year: I eagerly awaited the booklet in late spring outlining the categories to be judged and was delighted to be able to tick off a good many that were already underway in the garden; beetroot, cucumbers, courgettes, sweet pea, soft fruit, it looked like being a bumper year. I was also pleased to see the onion category was still key as I was determined to defend my 1st place title of two years. Queen of the Onions me.

So, last Friday, between storms, I hurried about the garden, pantry, shed and greenhouse gathering up my harvest for show prep. I was particularly pleased with my carrots which I'd grown in a stack of 5lt pots, one on top of the other with the bottoms cut out to give height and hopefully length to my crop as well as deterring the dreaded fly. It worked a treat and as I gently excavated, beautiful, perfectly straight (though slim,) 6"to 8" carrots were revealed. Next year I will thin more ruthlessly and water more but this is my chosen growing method from now on.

Hubby is usually my fluffer pre-show but he'd excused himself to Germany for a meeting and wasn't due back till late so I was left with the task of prep. The kitchen smelled wonderfully earthy with the aroma of herbs, fresh cut flowers and a multitude of fruit and veg. The cats looked on, slim pickings for them.

The sproglets weren't home from school till late and after a hasty tea they soon set about their chosen domestic entry, the 10yo making whopping great buttermilk muffins covered in pink icing with antenna of mint Matchmakers. They were obscene. I marvelled at the fact that she was totally in control, very Mastercheffy and looked at me funny when I offered to help. Love it!

The 8yo opted to make a pizza. Again I stood back and waited politely to be asked to help. I was proper redundant. Mummy for sale, two previous owners.... Boy read his packet of Tesco pizza base mix (well, you HAVE to cheat on a Friday night especially when there's Saturday school the next day!) made up his dough, rolled it out [the mess, the mess] and then placed red pesto, mozzarella, red onions, olives and Parma ham artistically around the artisan shaped platter. Lush.

When the sproglets were in bed I finished my prep and that was when I realised that my prize (possibly) onions couldn't be entered for the show. The category was for seed grown onions and I'd grown mine from sets. Bum.

[I say bum, but I'm secretly pleased, don't tell anyone...In my mind I am therefore undefeated. #insanelogic]

The show was fabulous and among other 1sts, 2nds and Commendations I won a 1st for my sweet pea display, even though it looked a bit pathetic and until an hour before the show was covered in greenfly. Apparently the judge admired my choice in variety - this year all my sweet pea were marbled purple or red with strong scents. Who knew.

Roll on next year, I might even enter some of the bigger shows round here - get me!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Rude Fruit...

With just three courgette plants I could feed the nation!

A friend came to dinner recently and exclaimed at my rude veg! One courgette plant throws out boob shaped yellow fruit, another offers green boobs and the last plant has prolific jaundiced phalli pointing in varying directions. Along with being rude their other common attribute is their prolific production. Turn your back for an instant and Katie Price is right there in the proverbial veg bed! [Tsk!]

Yesterday the rude veg was processed into a huge ratatouille for the freezer. Yum. There is nothing better than finding a pot of late summer in the freezer in colder months.

Mostly I love this time of year, it is a close second to spring in my book. This time of year I begin the task of storage for winter; collecting berries or fruit for freezing or processing into jars of goo and hunting seeds for sowing now or storing till spring.

The blackberries are particularly good this year, probably because they were not cut back last year due to the fields being so wet. It was so waterlogged that the hedge-cutting farmer didn't dare venture onto our land.

The hedge-cutting farmer is a lovely elderly gent who, when he stops to chat, dispenses farming wisdom from his cab with the door open. Mid sentence he shoos wasps away from his sandwiches and tea flask with kindly words. 'Get away with you, you silly,' he says. I like that, I do the same. I can't be doing with all the arm flapping and histrionics. My children have inherited my approach though Hubby prefers the flapping method. The farmer told me that last year was the worst weather he could remember. He and his huge tractor had to be pulled out of muddy fields three times!

The blackberries seem to have appreciated the weather and their stay of execution last year, in this summer's heat they have swelled and sweetened beautifully and now reside in bags in my freezer after being tray frozen, making it easy to scoop a handful for a pie or milkshake.

The hedges are now all cut. The farmer was merciless, his huge tractor bore down on the land carrying his monstrous cutter which ate away at two years of wild growth. Now, from the top of the house, you can almost see into all the fields and down to the woods, can almost count the livestock.

I said earlier that I mostly love this time of year. There are two reasons not to love it completely; first it signals the beginning of the end of the year and second, the balmy dewy weather always seems to bring on a flush of red mite in the hen coops.

For those of you with sproglets you may or may not have enjoyed the thrill of head lice. I have once, it is awful. Awful, awful, awful. But I think the war against red mite in chickens is worse. I spray, clean, dust, change bedding and while this has an immediate effect on the chickens environment I am left scratching and itching until I can strip, chuck my entire outfit in a hot wash and lash to the shower to adorn myself in Vosene (which works a treat.) Ugh. The trouble is I have wooden coops with tons of nooks and crannies, places for red mite to lurk.

If a steam cleaner company fancies giving me a portable, powerful gadget to annihilate the buggers (mites, not chooks) I'd be glad to give a full review. Right now I feel I need to go and burn my underwear.... Over and out

If you'd like more on the mites at The Larches, try this blog post Death to Bugs.... by The Human Buffet...

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Hi, I'm Shadow....

Shadow is now 2 weeks and 4 days old and utterly bonkers. She races around the field tossing her head this way and that, kicking her ridiculously long legs sideways, swerving as she passes the adults as if she's a F1 car in a Grand Prix. She's funny. She taken a real liking to nibbling ears and hair and the sproglets receive this attention as much as Annabel and Bracken!

No sign of Bracken's baby yet but we're all very chilled about this as those that know assure me it could still be on the way. The 8yo has really bonded with his mother-to-be and can often be found lying in the long cool grass, leaning on her back, both half asleep.


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Birds for sale....

This week we were finally able to organise the diary in order to take the 10yo's Salmon Faverolle, 14 week old, pullets and cock to the poultry auction. If you've read the blog regularly over the last 4 years you may be aware that I've had some interesting times there in the past, more relating to the clientele than the process. There was the time I bought a huge Bantam family for an extortionate amount of money and another time when I nearly scored myself a 'lovely' Welsh boyfriend!

So, emotionally prepared, I made plans for our upcoming sale. I decided that another recent hatchling would be sold too; a bantam cock, and that we would make a trio of birds by selling two of our bantam girls with him (these girls from the original bantam family I bought in 2011.)

The children were thrilled when I woke them at 5.45am on the morning of the sale...Not! We live an hour from the auction and really needed to be there and commandeer a cage by 6.30am. We were so early that the Hubby wasn't even awake and so I crept about the bedroom, putting a pant in a leg, a boob in a bra, a toe in a sock as quietly as I could, gathering up bits I needed from the nightstand. All was going well until I fumbled for one item too many and managed to drop everything in my arms onto my full coffee cup which exploded an earthy colour over Kindles, notebooks and carpet! I swore, Hubby sat up, confused. #Disaster1.

Promising to clean up later, I escaped to Task 2: ushering sproglets downstairs. This was fairly easy and so I was lulled into a false security for Task 3: Loading the birds.

The previous night I had segregated the birds we were taking to the auction so that it would be easy to box them and go. Ha! Within the first 5 minutes I had lost a hold on the young Bantam cock... (steady!) and he was free. The 10yo and I briefly tried to catch him but he was wise to us and we were forced to give up. #Disaster2. By now we were running late.

With Salmon Faverolles safely in a box, we arrived at the auction at 7am, just 30 minutes late. Bearing in mind that the sale didn't start till 10am I was sure we would be in good time to cage up. I was almost wrong. There was just one cage available in our section of birds. We quickly disgorged our cardboard box, settling our girls and boy with water and corn housed in makeshift feeders made from plastic 1 pint milk containers, (v. Blue Peter) their handles cut to make them easier to hang on the bars of the cage. Finally I could breathe.

Between 7am and 10am we fed ourselves on meat market bacon butties and tea and even had time to dash the couple of miles into the centre of the city for home supplies.

I'm pleased to say our birds sold well (though Rockefellers we are not) and it was gratifying to note that #Disaster3 never really occurred, unless you count the monsoon-like weather that ensued for the rest of the day and I don't.

The 10yo is considering investing her 'millions' in an egg incubator so that she can turn out chicks to order, now that she's had a taste of earning.... Lordy help us!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

15 Days: A lifetime so far...

Shadow, our baby alpaca born on 2nd August, is now 12 days old and doing well.

The last time I posted, she had just been born and we were smug in the knowledge that our paddock was lush, our stocks of food for mum Annabel and mum-to-be Bracken were plentiful and that our field shelter was clean and fresh with good matting and a deep bed of straw. We couldn't have predicted the hideous weather about to hit us that Friday night or that it would return with a vengeance all Sunday too.

Those first few days set us Archers on a steep learning curve and I'm grateful to the help I received over the phone from Unique Alpacas Ludlow, Westcroft Alpacas and BAS. Fortunately, thanks in part to our own prep and to the bits and bobs in the alpaca birthing box we were advised to buy, we were able to gather up our brood and contain them in the field shelter when we noticed that Shadow was shivering in the field. We towelled her dry and, dividing the shelter in two, mum and baby one side, aunt the other, we were able to keep them all fed, dry and warm for almost 24 hours until the mad storms finally wore themselves out.

It seems our time in close proximity to these animals has since paid off: Annabel, Shadow's mum, has decided we are to be tolerated. In the weeks after her arrival to The Larches she would have nothing to do with us. This may have been linked to the discomfort she felt with her imminent birthing or the fact that we were total strangers but she was definitely unfriendly. Now she feeds from our hands and if we call to her she will, casually walk to us and allow us to fuss her. Often she enjoys the fuss so much that she drops to her knees and lies down beside us in order that we might continue our adoration of her in the cool grass.

During these bonding sessions I have told the sproglets to completely ignore baby Shadow. I want Annabel to know that this is not an excuse to grab her baby in order to spay her umbilical cord or weigh her as we do at other times, this is purely a pampering session for mum and aunt. Unfortunately no one has mentioned these rules to Shadow who bounds about playing her own made up game of 'you can't catch me.' When she becomes bored of this game because we won't join in, she will nibble her mum's ear, aunt's nose or, her new favourite tid-bit, the 10yo's soft blonde hair!

We are so fortunate. Our three alpaca girls are happy, healthy and trusting in us. Here's hoping Bracken too has a cria to join our herd.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Rock and a hard place....

Yesterday we grafted. We mended fences, contained lambs and sheep. Emptied an old field shelter of its floor boarding and sheep droppings, lined it with straw and set down some equestrian matting. At the back of the shelter Hubby put up a grid system with various heights to hang the heavy feeding troughs for the alpaca. All this work is prep for winter; a place where the alpaca family can shelter if the weather turns really bad. By all accounts, alpaca would rarely be taken into a stable, always preferring to be out in the elements so the field shelter is a half-way house.

We praised our morning's work over a lunch of tuna and olive bread followed by juicy peaches but it was soon time to see what other jobs needed doing.

I deigned we should move a hefty mountain of Shropshire stone that was sat in the alpaca field, fearing the ladies might hurt their legs on it. Hubby suggested I might actually be 'inventing' work and went off to find a real job while the sproglets and I began to fill the trailer with the cumbersome pieces. Close to the end of this real job I managed to put one heavy stone down, dislodging another. The second stone then rolled onto my ring finger. The pain under my nail is now amazing. I presume I'll have one of those revolting blood blisters, though as yet there is no sign thanks to my Barbie pink nail varnish! (Well, it is summer!)

One thing we have learnt over our past 4 years here is that gates need to be shut. Yesterday we managed to add to our workload by forgetting this. As Hubby and daughter drove Dizzy Discovery down to a lower paddock, they passed through our largest field housing more than 100 borrowed lawnmowers. Unfortunately they left the gate open. The ewes and lambs figured this was surely an invitation to follow and duly poured through the gate. I was in the alpaca field which has free access to this lower field and, fearful that these sheep might stampede Shadow, our baby cria, I ran like Mo Farah to close the gate. The 10yo had the same thought and we met at the gate, heading the sheep off just in time. Phew!

That, it seems was the easy bit. We then spent the next 20 minutes dashing about like sheep dogs, trying to drive the flock back to their big field. Hilariously, once we had completed this task we realised that our cade lambs were among the throng. In truth this didn't really matter, they could easily graze together but the 10yo called their names and from a sea of faces Coco, Bino and Oreo appeared. They happily followed us back to their patch where their was less competition for grass.

If I look back at our move to The Larches on the 28th August 2009, I had no real expectation for learning and yet in 4 years we have learnt so much. When we arrived at The Larches with a 6yo and a 4yo, we'd never even owned a pet as a family, had only gardened on a micro scale and had no clue how to mend a gate or fence. Look at us now, we've moved from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.

On the 28th of this month will will have completed our 4th year at The Larches. If it wasn't for our lovely neighbours we'd still be in the dark ages regarding sheep, land and horticulture. Bless them for being patient with us and bring it on year 5!

Friday, 2 August 2013

And now we are three.....

Home from swimming and I wondered why Annabel had a crow beneath her...... ! Glasses on Lou, sheesh!

Oh, not a crow, a beautiful baby girl. She has been named Shadow by the 10yo. Great name.

A marvelous picture by the 8yo

I had asked several experienced alpaca breeders what the term for an alpaca birth was. With sheep it's lambing (obviously) and I wondered if there was a special term for alpacas. Rob Bettinson of Toft Alpacas told me that he's heard it called creation, (ha ha) but best of all he's heard it described as unpacking. Lovely.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Taming lambs and other fairy tales.....

If you have ever taken part in an agricultural show; showing sheep, cattle, goats, pigs or any other headstrong creature, I take my tweedy cloth cap off to you. Boy, oh boy, oh boy is there a lot of work behind the scenes.

Burwarton Show is a one day show in Shropshire. Its scale is impressive with a footfall of 20,000 and it arguably attracts the best livestock from at least six counties and Wales.

We girded our loins this year and decided to show two of our cade lambs under the pet lamb category.

For the past three weeks we have walked these lambs around our fields..... well, we walked, they bucked and broncoed... sheesh!

Today came the culmination of our hard work... We loaded the girls from the stables at 8:00am, they'd been housed overnight in the stables in an effort to keep their washed fleces clean - it didn't work. They'd managed to lie in their own doings and their fleeces had a yellow glow! Anyhoo, we drove to the showground a mere 30 minutes away, unpacked the girls and waited for our time in the arena. While we waited, the sproglets teased, tweaked, brushed and sprayed in an effort to make our mongrels look like the pedigree lambs surrounding us. Oops!

It would be fair to say that the 10yo was almost beaten by her lamb Coco, who really wasn't in the mood to walk nicely and with searing temperatures of 27° daughter was v. close to throwing the proverbial towel in. But she didn't. The judging of the Pet Lamb category was made slightly more tricky when our judges couldn't be located and the children, ranging in age from 3 to 10, had to stand in the ring for almost 30 minutes in bonkers temperatures, wearing junior doctors' coats.... but on that we shall not dwell.

When the judges were finally located it was wonderful to see our children competent and confident, able to talk about their lambs and handle them, even when their animals began playing up.

Sproglets, we commend you. You came first in our eyes. Daddy and I are very proud and when you said you'd 'NEVER DO THAT AGAIN...' did you mean until next year????

The rules and regulations...

Still waiting....

The judgement

Awaiting the verdict...

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

R.I.P. Happy, our disabled hen.

Summer 2012

Long ago in early 2010 we acquired Happy, our disabled hen, from a lovely farmer who owned a battery hen farm. She cost us just £1, a tiny amount for a girl so full of personality.

Happy was approximately 2 years old when she came to us, supposedly at the close of her battery, commercial life. The farm has long since been renovated and modernised and we Archers were privileged to visit the amazing state of the art barn that the farmer has since invested in, housing 13,000 very happy egg laying girls. His chickens are now free to move within their barn, (a structure from Thunderbirds methinks) and to roam a vast paddock during daylight hours.

For the past 4 years Happy has been a loved member of the Archer Clan. Many of our guests have marvelled at her resilience, hobbling along behind the others or pecking a young bird in order to teach some manners. She was tough and funny. If you were gardening she was your shadow, determined to find the biggest and best worm or grub in whatever hole you had decided to dig!

Happy passed away last night. She was elderly but I'm sure the heat hastened her departure.

Close to the end we sat her in the extension to the coop, (the bungalow,) shaded from the sun, with a dish of cool water for company. With the door wide open she watched and listened to the sounds and seemed peaceful.

As I locked up the animals late last night she looked very tired, her eyes closing and as I latched her door I whispered to her to go to heaven.

I don't think she'll be disabled in heaven. I'm sure that's how it works.

If you want to read about Happy's arrival at The Larches click here and here.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Washing sheep.... and other diversions for children on holiday....

Summer holidays and there is no room for 'I'm bored' at The Larches. The merest hint of a glazed eye or request to watch something on TV before 7pm will instantly result in a task, (generally linked to poo.) Today's task was lamb washing.

We are soon to partake in our very first agricultural show in which the sproglets will show their lambs. I must confess that the training isn't going well, as soon as we put the halter on Coco, the 10yo's lamb, she turns into a marble statue and point blank refuses to move. This, interestingly, is the direct opposite to 'Bino, the 8yo's lamb, who immediately turns into Usain Bolt dragging boy behind her.

Should be embarrassing interesting, as the attendance figures for the show are usually 20,000. I'm pretty sure I know all 20,000.

Lamb washing instructions.

  1. Use water only. We have discovered that the brush to wash the wheels of the car, (and attaches to the hose,) is perfect for the job.
  2. Wear washing up gloves unless you like the feel of squishy poo between your fingers. [NOTE: Don't use gloves that will later be required for dish washing! - Mum x]
  3. Coax lambs into a small space and lock them in
  4. Expect to get dirty as the lambs get cleaner

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Alpaca Handling... for beginners


It seems inconceivable that our alpacas arrived almost two months ago. I know, I know, I should be blogging more but life just gets in the way. Sorry.

I must confess that for the first three weeks of their arrival I was in shock. I felt as if I'd just gained two new step-children, from Peru, without being able to speak their language, (though they actually came from Herefordshire.) However, since my attendance at Toft Alpacas Husbandry Workshop I'm a changed woman.

Bearing in mind that both our girls, Annabel and Bracken, are pregnant we hadn't really attempted to catch them to halter them, plus I was more than a little intimidated: The largest animals we've ever owned are 3 big fat sheeps and they don't tend to look you in the eye.

Toft Alpacas in Warwickshire is the most glorious place if you are even considering owning alpacas, actually it's a great place for a fun day out with the family even if you don't feel the need to bundle a cria (baby) into the boot of your car and drive off. #illegalBTW. Do check the website for open days or call in advance of a visit.

Shirley and Rob Bettinson of Toft Alpaca

Monday, 15 July 2013


We went to Shell Island at the height of the season last year. Never again. This year we escaped as soon as school finished and stayed for almost a week or as near as we dared to the weekend when the site began to fill up with humans with their own 'taste' in music. Personally I like the sounds of nature when I'm camping not blaring music. Some of the nature sounds are better than others. The ones I'm not so keen on are; children bickering over the least wonky camp chair or last cereal variety pack, babies wailing as their parents slap on the sun cream and the father teenage banter as they debate the shoes/no shoes question.

But empty and basked in sun, Shell Island is a paradise.

The rock pools were amazing this year. We found HUGE spider crabs, 12" star fish, fish, hermit crabs, flat fish, jelly fish and watched dolphins leap from a flat, shimmering sea. It was unbelievable.

I'll never leave the UK again. Fortunately I cannot afford to leave the UK again.

Poor Daddy, we're abandoning him again and he's stuck with the animals. He's once again King of the remote.

Livestock and the heat....

Well we've been on a whirl-wind since finishing school a week or so ago.

The weather, for once, has solidly behaved itself and our livestock have variously operated in temperatures of 25° to 30°: The alpacas seem perfectly happy, though Annabel looks about ready to pop and we watch as her belly contorts with her cria's kicks. Bracken, on the other hand still shows no sign of being pregnant despite two scans. The 8yo will be bitterly disappointed if his girl doesn't produce a baby though the vet assures us that alpaca can hide a pregnancy very well.

The chickens are quite happy to dust bathe and drive us potty by having migrant nests. The cats are almost entirely nocturnal now, appearing at dusk from a cool, dark woodshed or barn, ready for a night of housekeeping. Last night one feline friend left us a fat [dead] mole on the doorstep. I hope they catch the blighter who is excavating in my walled garden!

Last year's lambs who were cloud-like, have now been shaved. According to the farmer they are still too fat and so have been banned from our lush site until they lose some weight. They are at Fat Camp for Sheep on starvation rations.  I wonder if they have to wear headbands and run on treadmills; poor Pinky, Moon and Snowy. [Before someone asks for the address of the Fat Camp: I made that up - !]

Apparently, if they are too fat they won't fall pregnant when the tup comes to call in Autumn.

I have been wondering about this and am quite interested in whether the tup just doesn't fancy fatties or if there's a medical reason why they might not fall.... These are the things I muse when I have spare time !!. Maybe if I painted their toenails Tuppy might forgive them their blubber.... I know the 10yo would be up for a spot of painting. Anyhoo, I haven't asked the farmer about this issue because [lowers voice in a Miranda sort of way] it is a sexual question and besides, he already looks at me funny sometimes... That might be because I used to put the sheep in the stables when it rained!

This year's lambs are suffering a bit with the heat and flies. We've sprayed them with with a citronella horse wash and that seems to do the trick for them as well as me, as the act of spraying them means I get sprayed too. Lovely lemony smell and so much cheaper than Chanel No5.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Show Jumping at The Larches

Thanks to our naughtiest lamb, Cocoa, [owner: the 10yo] Bracken, one of our alpacas, leapt the fence to her paddock and ended up in our neighbour's field. Grrrr. Chops for tea anyone? It is typical that the Hubby is away this week in Italy. Poor him!

The 10yo, 8yo and I were calling the lambs for bed time in the stables this evening, (- yes we are soft,) and they were being typical youngsters; refusing to comply and hiding behind the field shelter. After tons of coaxing I semi gave up and stood still, half way up the paddock, dreaming of wine. The 10yo, who had insisted the lambs come in because of the bitter wind, collapsed in the grass. Cocoa, Bambina and Oreo, sensing our defeat, leapt about a bit kicking their lambsy legs to this side and that and then stood defiant, 'king-of-the-castle-style,' on gigantic conifer stumps.

The alpacas were intrigued by all the madness and finally ventured towards the lambs. Cocoa delighted as Anabelle, the palomino alpaca, sniffed her and in joy she gave a great lambsy leap into the air, frightening the beejeesus out of the chocolate camelid, Bracken.

Bracken took off and leapt over a decent sized fence, off our property and onto our neighbour's land.

To cut a long story very short, it took almost two hours to return her to our paddock. We took our time partly because of her pregnancy and partly because it's bloody tricky to catch an alpaca, even trickier to move them once they refuse and sit down. 'Nuff said.

Our neighbours need medals for services beyond the call of duty. I must say that since moving to the middle of nowhere I have never been more reliant on the kindness of neighbours (oh and the spooky 'alpaca-whisperer' talent of the 10yo.)

After a big glass of wine I feel much calmer and, bearing in mind that it is almost 9pm, I would very much like to go to bed now with more wine and the TV remote to watch Chelsea Flaar Show, unfortunately I still need to lock up the chooks. Sob.

Onward and upward.

P.S. Dear God, please turn off the wind machine and could you move the Gulf Stream back northwards please?

Love Lou.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The Llamas at The Larches.... (actually they're Alpacas but that didn't rhyme!)

We had an interesting weekend; a party in Henley-on-Thames for The Entrepreneur, a good friend. A flying visit to my sister and family in Guildford.

'Thank you,' I called to her from the car window as we headed off back to deepest Shropshire, to lambs and sheep, chicks and cats, 'Thank you for almost having us....' She laughed, she knows we're mad.

We were home by midnight and the sproglets, Hubby and I fell exhausted into our beds.

As usual, the next morning I awoke at 6am for a bit of thinking time. I'd be a good milkman as I love to get up early. I especially like the time in the morning where it's just me and the coffee, oh and the cats, er yes, and the lambs, oh and not forgetting the chicks...... Oh for God's sake!... my mornings have been invaded.

Anyhoo, this Sunday morning was glorious, the sun beating down, the coffee hot. After opening up and feeding the broods I wandered about the gardens perusing the plants that hadn't yet been eaten by lambs.

Late morning when the sproglets and hubby had finally emerged from their beds, I was free to mow the walled garden and tidy as loudly as I liked.

After an impromptu BBQ lunch and a decadent glass of wine, I wandered off to assess whether the 10yo's rare breed chicken compound needed to move to fresh ground. It did and I was just in the throes of catching the massivo rooster when the 8yo started screaming somewhere in the distance...

'Mum, Mum!'

I thought something really bad had happened, a death at least.

'Mum, there's a trailer with llamas in it.'

I assumed someone was lost, way off the beaten track, asking for directions.

'Dad's bought llamas,' the 8yo insisted.

I knew this was impossible but in order to soften the disappointment that the 8yo was sure to feel when they drove off, I thought I'd best come and see what all the fuss was about.

Rounding the side of the house there was indeed a livestock trailer on the drive, worryingly the ramp was down and Hubby was grinning from ear to ear. The 10yo stood, gobsmacked, staring into the cavity while the 8yo was in rapture.

'They're ours, they're Alpacas. Daddy's bought Alpacas. I love you Dad,' he repeated over and over.

They were. He had.

Gob. Smacked.

Did I mention they're both pregnant?

Lordy love a duck! Scary but so exciting. I'm amazed I had no idea they were coming.... what a fab Hubby.

Next instalment when the shock and awe has worn off a bit. A big welcome to Anabelle and Bracken.


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Chick Flick......

We have 6 chicks to date, more on the way. The Bantams are blissfully unaware that they are foster parents!

I was a little worried by our style of birthing centre this time; Housed in a converted cupboard inside a 3m x 3m secure compound, 3 Bantams sit close together incubating 15 eggs. Far from being a problem, their close proximity has meant that the three 'would-be' mothers have shared the chick care: They take turn sitting on the eggs, scratting with the hatched babies outside the coop and at night the chicks snuggle under which ever mother is closest. A great family model.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Emerging from hibernation: The Lesser Spotted Archers at The Larches

I've been busy here... at night, instead of blogging, I sleep. Sorry.

Mind you, during the day [my days seem to comprise more hours than the standard 24] I squeeze in a marketing job, minimal housework, dinners etc, bottle washing, lamb feeding, the chickens and, now that my garden is just beginning to recover from 18 months of rubbish weather, a spot of seed sowing and land management. I'm considering a day off tomorrow at Malvern Spring Show, though that said, it's pouring from the sky today and if this weather continues I might just join the lambs in the stables who are huddled around a heat lamp!

Lambs are lively little things and love nothing more than play time with the sproglets! [If you can't see this video in email format click the title of the post to be transported to my blog.]

I've three Bantam hens sitting on approximately 15 eggs. None of the eggs belong to the Bantams, instead they are sitting on a mixed brood of Welsummers, Salmon Faverelles and Heinz57's! I'm praying that the hatchlings will be mainly hens rather than roosters but you never can tell. With luck they'll hatch next week when the weather may again improve, it's dreadful at the moment.

Here at The Larches we favour animals being free to wander. Our chooks are free range as soon as they're big enough to withstand the advances of the two cats. Recently we released the, now grown, Salmon Faverelles; the 10yo's rare breed chickens. This did not go well; our original rooster, Road Runner, who is half the size of Lucky the new boy but twice as aggressive, decided to pick a fight to the death with the new interloper. But for The Hubby's interference, one or both roosters would have needed hospitalization.

After spraying combs and necks with purple antiseptic spray we returned the rare breed chickens to their 3m x 3m enclosure. Sad.

Wondering what to do next, Hubby and I pondered our options until a neighbour appeared asking if we had a spare rooster to take care of his 40+ hens! Was he sent by St Francis of Assisi I wondered? A summit of Archers was required to see if the sproglets would agree terms with the neighbour, money was never an option, the children were more concerned that rooster would be sad at being forced into exile. In the end we all agreed that the neighbour could 'borrow' rooster and that afternoon we placed him in a dark box and walked down the bridlepath, passing one neighbour's land, across the small village road and down the hill to our next neighbour's property.

We locked rooster in a shed located a the bottom of field on the neighbour's land and 40 hens clucked at him through the door. He was clearly furious but he needed to be locked in for a couple of days, with food and water of course, in order to imprint his new home to his memory.

Two days later he'd escaped. He was soon spotted by our closest neighbour as he jumped into his hen compound. Before Road Runner had time to completely murder our neighbour's prize rooster, he was caught (again) and taken back to his new home.

Two further days and he had escaped again, this time he avoided our neighbour and came back home to us, his real home. Who knew roosters had homing pigeon instincts?!

I get the hint. He can stay. The sproglets and our hens are delighted. The rare breed chooks will need a bigger compound! Sheesh!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Blank canvas.

Dear God.

I know you are busy but I was wondering if, when spring finally arrives, it would be possible to make it prolonged as I've barely had the inclination to open Carol Klein's veg book this year and I'm very behind with my sowing?

Best wishes.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

St. Patrick's Day white stuff....

As we toddled to bed last night Hubby remarked on the snow. I thought he was joking, having heard no mention of it on the forecast. Peering out into the darkness across the driveway and towards the fields I could see my black car was white!

I'm in need of sun. I don't mean holiday-in-the-Caribbean kind of sun, just a bit of blue sky and brightness that is a usual spring here in Blighty. I feel as if I have seen grey skies or fog-fug or blue-black rain skies for nigh on 18 months.

The other day I began fantasising about the creation of a giant hair dryer, pointed at the sky, diverting cloud cover, pollution and hopefully the ruddy jet stream. [Oxford and Cambridge get your thinking caps on.]

Note to self: Get off the soap box now!

OK, I'm back. Positive mental altitude required.

On an up-note, the sweet peas I planted in October are romping along and so, two weeks ago, I took these pots and some pots of perpetual peas planted in December and placed them on a table in the walled garden. The table faces south east and their backs are against a 25' Shropshire stone wall, home to our gossipy sparrows and tits.

I am always amazed at the resilience of sweet peas, if they have been grown hard they merely bow their heads to frost or snow. Obviously if frost was sustained I would have protected them but fortunately the white stuff has been manageable this year.

Today is traditionally the day to plant potatoes; St Patrick's Day. The snow has rather put me off. Instead I will don boots and put on a good coat to open up the chickens and check on the sheep. Then I might sow some seeds or have a spring clean of the potting shed. Good jobs for a Sunday. Hubby and Son are creating a wooden, stand-alone, nest box for the 10yo's Salmon Faverelle chickens, as they've grown so enormous they have begun squashing their own eggs in their coop. If I'm feeling robust I may even barrow some muck to the raised beds, though that may be tricky if the ground is frozen again under the snow.

This afternoon we are hunting eggs, the chocolate kind, at a school event. Here's hoping the organisers haven't hidden all white chocolate eggs or we may never find them!

Till next time.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Having a think......

There's plenty in my head to write about, maybe too much.

Since last I wittered, (a long time ago,) the seasons have stagnated and I'm fairly convinced that just one season remains - a wet one. The fields are still sodden, our animals are damp and though the snowdrops are still showing off, (if your snowdrops have come and gone by now you must remember we are high above sea level here and consequently a couple of weeks behind warmer parts of the UK) and the daff heads are swelling for their turn, the jury's out whether this will be a good year.

I heard a lovely story, though can't recall where, was it Bob Flowerdew?.... he called a garden centre and asked if they had any snowdrops for sale in the green....... 'Sorry' said the lady on the end of the phone, 'We only have white ones.' Bless.


Another excuse for not writing is that I'm back to work, supporting a vocational school. A worthy cause actually.

I've sowed some seeds. Some have foundered, some have not. There must be a glimmer of optimism.

Chilli (Tabasco), tomato and Cerinthe are all doing well. Modules of Rose Campion are beginning to spurt. I'm checking the Dahlia and Cosmos plants of last year, protected over winter. Life looks unlikely, but then again I'm surprised by plants each and every year. They may just need a little more warmth; I'm hoping that rumours of last Tuesday being the summer of 2013 are untrue.

Sweet Pea, sown in October, December and then again in January are also doing well. I gazed at a label for one of the sowings, wondering what variety Leominster was. I couldn't find or recall the packet. It came to me later; these were the perpetual strong pink Sweet Pea pods I'd pilfered from a pub in Leominster.

Plant pilfering seems less of a crime as I head towards 50. 50! I remember my mother taking cuttings from some concrete and pebble planters, (must have been the 70's,) outside an impressive insurance company. I was mortified, especially when I looked up and saw the security guard inside, heading towards the glass entrance doors. We'd been spotted.

My mum was totally engrossed and there was nowhere to hide, we were going to prison and my younger sister and brother would have to go into care, as all dad could cook was breakfast egg-flips, a revolting mixture of warm milk, sugar and raw egg shaken to a frenzy and gulped down. Urgh!

The guard descended the steps towards us, instantly authoritative in his dark suit, shiny buttons and banded cap.

'There's better bits round the back in the car park; reds and blues.' he said and smiled. Clearly a fellow pilferer. Holy cow, who can you trust nowadays?


According to our cats spring is deffo here; their gifts of the hindquarters of Easter bunnies secreted behind the sofa in the kitchen bearing testimony to the fact.

Well, it's been nice chatting, I've enjoyed dipping my toe in the wittering water..... I'll be back soon I hope..


Monday, 28 January 2013

There's snow business like snow snow business..

 Much as I loved the snow I am thrilled it has now gone..... sorry kids! However, I did get some lovely snow shots even if they weren't a patch on my pal's; Sue Flood's stunning arctic, wildlife photography. Check out her website here.

Roll on Spring!

[Pics are my own, please don't reproduce or use without permission. Thanks]

The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon