Stormy Weather….

   ….typically; now my Love & I, are not together….

Tony’s been away flying whilst I’ve been coping with the wild, wild wind & the bitter, driving rain.  It seems there’s no respite; if it’s not blowing a gale it’s pouring with rain – or both.  It started (typically) on Friday 13th with the worst storms of the year so far.  I huddled in bed with the cats for company, listening fearfully as the storm raged around the house; so it was with some trepidation that I peered out of the window in the leaden light of dawn.  As soon as I could I checked around the farm as best I could; thankfully everything seemed pretty much intact. 

Then I remembered that during the night there had been a power cut, which would have tripped the little fridge which contains our veterinary medicines.   It was lucky I checked – because when I entered the Plant Room – hub of the Dairy Complex – I discovered to my horror that there was evidently a problem, water pouring in through the roof….splashing over plug sockets & onto the computer which is the ‘brain’ of our milking parlour. 

I immediately inched the computer carefully as far away from the flood, as I could; & then deal with the next emergency – finding a way of blocking or catching the water.  But how….?  I had to think quickly (not my strong point!). 

I urgently needed to cover the exposed electrical sockets & my first thought was the pile of Gortex jackets languishing in the garage – they keep out the worst weather imaginable.  Whilst rummaging around for them (diplomatically ignoring the host of enormous, hairy spiders which appeared to be guarding them) I espied a redundant tumble drier hose:  fat, flexible & lengthy – just the job.  Marry that up with some strategically-woven & suitably bunting-coloured baler twine & I might – just might – be able to turn a drama into a mere crisis. 

I clambered up into the roof space where amidst the gloom & the torrent of water I managed to make out an available beam from which to hang my ‘contraption’.  At first it seemed to be working, the stream of water successfully directed down the tube & down into a bucket below….but no; not so good….the tube kept on drifting in the restless wind & the water, the water, kept on flowing….

More baler twine; more exertion. 

And, yet; water, water, everywhere….

So:  more exertion.  And even more baler twine.  And lots more hard, hard work.  What with that, two spider-infested Gortex jackets & some judiciously-placed bubble wrap I just about managed to stem the flow & limit the damage.  Soon the majority of the water was pouring down the makeshift pipe & into a big green bucket (rather than all over the desk, the floor, & my office swivel chair).

I breathed a sigh of relief – crisis averted.  But then I noticed another problem…..it appeared that the majority of our half-mile long gravel driveway was now in the arrivals yard.  Summoning the dog  I anxiously trudged up the drive as he capered merrily in front of me, splashing along the twin streams that were once slightly-indented tyre tracks.  Deep orange gouges scarred the once grey, smooth surface; the audible gurgle of water as it poured down the exposed jagged bedrock depressed me beyond belief.  As the rain soaked my face & sent clammily cold rivulets seeping beneath my already sodden clothing, I gloomily realised that all hopes of ever getting to today’s ‘Sadwrn Siarad’ – Welsh Learners’ Day School – were dashed; I needed to tackle any blockages in the drains at the top of the drive. 

Thankfully I was assisted by an ever-helpful neighbour; but it wasn’t so much any blockage but rather the sheer volume of water, which was causing the damage: the drains just couldn’t cope.  What might have saved the day would have been properly-maintained drainage ditches (in fact, ANY drainage ditches) along the side of the road; unfortuntely however the Council clearly do not consider us to be a priority.

The runoff system into the field also needed rodding & – for the umpteenth time this year – clearing; although I found that in fact it wasn’t too bad; again, it was the sheer volume of water which was causing the backlog through the drain….& with the drain already full the excess water had simply found an easier route, overflowing straight down the drive. 

The ultimate insult occurred whilst lifting off one of the covers, which had at some stage been damaged by a heavy vehicle.  The twisted metal was extremely sharp & being wet, difficult to grasp; not only did I gouge a chunk out of my finger I also managed to slice it open as well, two very painful wounds.  Fortunately they bled pretty heavily which at least cleared away most of the grit also embedded in the gash.  So, not the best of days….

Since then the farm has alternately been battered by rain, or by wind, or by both; but at least whilst things are pretty miserable (especially when the North wind blows as to add insult to injury disgusting, choking oily fumes & smuts of wet soot come belching out of the Rayburn chimney & into the kitchen, eugh) we have got off fairly lightly, all things considered.   Even so, on a trip to Haverfordwest to serve gelato at an event held (appropriately) by the Really Wild Farm Shop I was forced to turn back when I reached the road through the mountains owing to the appalling – & in truth, alarming – conditions.  The clouds were down to ground level; it was blowing a ferocious gale & the rain was beating down so hard I could scarce  see out of the car windscreen not to mention the water pouring off the fields was had turned the road surface into a rapid-running stream whilst the rivers en route were swelling with chocolate-coloured, foaming water at an alarming speed. 

On the route home I paused to take some photos of the river which was magnificent in its turbulence over the falls; & was horrified to learn that where I’d parked to take my pictures the river abruptly burst its banks moments later…  Ironically the conditions were so bad that it affected the camera & they did not come out. 

Pity the poor people in Cumbria whose homes are flooded or wrecked by mudslides, & the family of that brave policeman who was swept off a bridge which collapsed….

…..but the forecasters warn us that it’s not over yet: next week, there is still more to come. I am not looking forward to the next chilling installment….

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Posted in Animals, Diary, Life, Nature, November 2009 | Leave a comment

Tomato ‘Catchup’

homemade-tomato-sauce  Oh my goodness,

doesn’t time fly when you’re rushed right off your feet…?!  Apologies for our lack of posts over the Summer; but things have been soooo busy here, phew! 

Subsequently I promise I WILL post up some brief archive posts which will still appear in their chronological order; I’ll let you know as/when they appear, in case they’re of interest. 

Meanwhile with Tony away for much of the time I had to cope with the last throes of kidding & lambing, alone; then there was the nail-biting wait for shearing (also tackled solo) & a drama of horrible flystrike to some of the sheep whilst warm-yet-wet weather persisted with our shearer, ‘otherwise engaged’. 

No sooner had I stumbled through all that, than it was time to get ready for the gruelling round of summer shows – albeit with Tony’s prolonged absence we were only able to compete rather than trade, at the challenging Royal Welsh Show.   But it still proved worthwhile….(of which more, in the archives!).

The most tiring show, though, was the three-day Pembrokeshire Show; as not only were the days long, the travelling distance was considerable.  Therefore a full five days were peppered with outrageously early starts & horrendously late nights; added to which, we picked up more than just some wonderful new customers….

….SWINE FLU.  No kidding, it’s horrendous; we’ve seldom felt so ill; so weak, so drained.  Goodness knows how; but Tony & I somehow managed to stumble our way through the basic daily chores whilst mercifully ‘holed up’ here on the ffarm in glorious isolation. 

Thankfully, whilst we’re still far from fully recovered we are at least, considerably better than we recently have been.  However, Tony’s still suffering serious sinus problems; whilst I’ve got a nasty, sticky cough & constant, feverish shivers (not helped by the temperamental weather); if I manage an hour’s unbroken sleep at night, I’m fortunate. 

We are at least assured we are no longer contagious; but added to that the struggle of an equivalent virus running through some of our precious goats;  plus the vacuum pump packing up in the milking parlour; the cooling plant packing up at Food Centre Wales (again), leaving us dangerously low in stock with all our newly-acquired summer customers; plus the borrowed Bobcat we’ve been using to muck out the pens suffering catastrophic arterial failure & almost drowning Tony in a fountain of hydraulic fluid, things here are still pretty challenging. 

But, you know us:  invariably waving, not drowning….  😉

Anyway:  Watch This Space for loads of archive updates & unfortunately-but-necessarily abbreviated posts, hereonin.  Never has that hackneyed phrase “so much to do, so little time…” chimed so true for us, as it does now.

Posted in Anything Goes, Dairy, Diary, Food, Life, September 2009, Smallholding | 9 Comments

Bobkitten

Bobcat  We’ve recently taken to hiring a Bobcat to clean out the Dairy Complex pens.  Prior to that, it was taking an average of five days – working almost constantly- to clean out the deep-littered beds every six weeks; which when added to cleaning out the pens in the Kidding Shed (with the Playpen alone, taking an average of another three days) it meant that almost all of poor Tony’s time at home has been spend wielding a muck fork.  Subsequently, other important jobs & repairs have slipped by the wayside….with the result that in places things started looking a little, errrmm, tired (not to mention our exhausted & unwell selves!).   

However the lick of paint the barns so badly need has inevitably been delayed not through intent but owing to the distinct lack of summer weather to allow anything sufficient time to dry; & having fat-arsed Shetland ponies who scratch their ample behinds so vigorously that they knock not only nest boxes from even the sturdiest poultry shed but can crumple centuries’-strong drystone walls, & you can apppreciate the additional challenges we’re up against. 

Hence, the hire of the Bobcat.  Well, not so much a Bobcat, as a Bobkitten…as it really is the dinkiest version imaginable, just right for getting into tight corners & squeezing into the narrow doorway of the Playpen.  Not that – as you can probably guess, with us – it ever got that far….*sigh*

Having taken delivery of said machine, after an essential lesson regarding the basic controls we were let loose with the gorgeous, growling little beastie.  Having trundled it off the trailer I left a distinctly ailing Tony alone to cheer himself up, playing with his “big boys’ toy” whilst I fixed us a much-needed cuppa. 

The growl of the engine abruptly silenced, I hurried out to investigate.  There stood Tony, a travesty of his already woeful self; drenched from top-to-toe in hydraulic fluid as a pipe fitting had abruptly sheared & burst loose whilst he’d been examining the bucket mechanism, the resultant fountain spurting everywhere.  Thankfully the only damage was to Tony’s clothing; however the use of the Bobcat was lost for the majority of the day, whilst trying to sort out a repair. 

At least with the sunshine, the Milkforce enjoyed their day frolicking in green pastures; even if Watsonia did manage to tear the skin protecting her nicely-healing abcess, to reveal the hideous, yellowed sore in all its’ gory glory which regardless of our already mutually fragile state, still required swift treatment. 

Oh, the path of true farming seldom does run smooth!  Erm – egg custard, anyone…? 

Ah.  I thought not.

Silli demonstrating the small-but-perfectly-formed, err, Bobcat....

Posted in Animals, Diary, Farming, Goats, Life, Livestock, September 2009, Smallholding | 4 Comments

Ben Hur-Hur-Hur

BenHurChariotRaceSomeone ‘upstairs’ is having a laugh – at our expense.

First & foremost for us as farmers, the weather: we STILL haven’t even come close to harvesting our desperately-needed hay crop (well not quite so desperate any more since we started supplementing the Milkforce’s diet with luscious lucerne).  Thoughts are reluctantly turning to attempting haylage this year rather than hay; as we just cannot anticipate enjoying a sufficiently dry spell any time soon – especially with the evenings drawing in, & the dew dropping more by every abbreviated day – albeit haylage goes against the grain as not only is the cost of the bale wrap frankly astronomical, the cost to the environment regarding the manufacture & disposal of said wrap is in our opinion, just as awful if not even worse. 

Then there’s the Milking Parlour.  A state-of-the-art Metatron P21, specifically adapted for optimum caprine comfort & care, there are still those messy ‘mechanical bits’ which can – & do – occasionally, go wrong.  And today was inevitably no exception, with the vaccuum pump abruptly ‘giving up the ghost’ this evening.  Thankfully, the Milkforce had finished their supper soireé, therein; unfortunately, thefollowing basic rinse cycle had only just been completed, before the pump gave a single, apologetic wheezy cough….& ground to a sorry halt. 

Oh, my.

This, methinks, will be expensive…..

And then there’s Laugh Number Three:  the side-splitting, rib-tickling failure of Food Centre Wales’ dairy refrigeration plant.  Thankfully I managed to limp the cacao base mix that I was crafting at the time, successfully through to conclcusion; however all further production is ‘on hold’ again for the second time this season, until the problem can be rectified.  And we’re running desperately short of Simplicity, Vanilla, Strawberries & Cream, Honeycomb…..thank goodness Chocolate at least gets a much-needed boost! 

Oh, what a nightmare. 

Can anyone offer us a similarly required ‘pick-me-up’, please?   These setbacks – & especially as we’re both trying to recover from the really nasty, lingering, after-effects of Swine Flu which is proving really tricky to shake off – are making us feel like the Gods, Malicious Spirits or Who-Knows-What Fate, are truly sniggering at our sad & unjustified expense.

Oh well; at least cleaning out the goats’ accommodation using  a hired ‘Ben Hur’ Bobcat-mini, rather than the usual Mk 1 Fork-Spade-Wheelbarrow combo, should help to ease these sniffles a little tomorrow.

So if the childish chuckling from ‘Them Upstairs’ can give us a break…..we’ll see.

Posted in Animals, Dairy, Diary, Environment, Farming, Goats, Ice Cream, Life, Livestock, Nature, September 2009, Smallholding | 3 Comments

Stop Press: Great Taste Awards 2009

gta09headThe moment that all fine food producers eagerly await with anxious anticipation each year –

the announcement of the winners in this “epicurean equivalent of the Booker prize” – is finally upon us for 2009….

We are immensely proud & delighted to announce that Lovespoon‘s Honeycomb Gelato has won a Gold Award – a superb achievement made all the more immense considering this is only our first year in business (plus we are the only producers in Wales to have won anything in the Ice Creams & Sorbets categories).

Sincere thanks to all those who have helped & supported us throughout what has been a challenging but rewarding year: we couldn’t have done it without you.

Posted in Dairy, Diary, Food, Ice Cream, Life | 22 Comments

Swings & Roundabouts

Wildflowers from the Ffarm

Wildflowers from the Ffarm

My goodness, how time flies….

already halfway through May!  It’s been typically busy: punctuated with crafting gelato, Farmers’ Markets, & deliveries etc; not to mention the usual farm work.  The girls have largely settled down to the routine in the milking parlour although there’s inevitable frissance when one of the newly-kidded mums joins in & has to re-learn the procedures. 

The hedgerows are a riot of colour; a feast for the senses which leaves me punch-drunk after the long, dark days of winter.  It’s just wonderful to see the delicate greens, golds & ochres of the new leaves unfurling on myriad branches in the wood when the early morning sun touches the tops of the trees in the valley.  The air is heavy with the hyacinth scent of the swathe of bluebells which sweeps in heady haze of sapphire, down to the laughing river; foxgloves & campion punctuate in pink; marsh buttercups nod their heavy golden heads in the warm breeze.   There’s a literal feast, too; in the mustardy greens zesty wild sorrel & leggy stems of Jack-by-the-Hedge; the goats & I forage together on the wonderful days when at last, they can frolic in the Spring sunshine, kicking up their heels in glee to be out at last.

The lovely Lady Morganna shows off her makeup!

The lovely Lady Morganna shows off her makeup!

On unseasonably hot days we carefully protect their udders, massaging them after milking  with a mixture of insect repellant & Factor 30 sun-tan lotion; followed at evening milking with a liberal application of cooling After-Sun cream.  My purchases at the local chemist were remarked upon; as inevitably I have to bulk-buy (30 pairs of udders take a lot of lotion – & then there’s the sensitive noses of ponies & goats to tend).  I was asked where in the world I was going, to need such a vast supply…? 

“Oh, it’s not for me – it’s for my goats” I replied without much thought. 

“Well, where on earth are THEY going..?!”  spluttered the assistant, aghast.  I explained the situation amidst much laughter from the people queuing behind me. 

“You’ll be delighted to know that you’ve spent so much, you’ve received a voucher for some free makeup”, grinned the cashier. 

“Great – the girls love a bit of lipstick!”  I laughed.  And with that quip, bounced out of the shop & into the sunshine.  But ironically once they’ve been in the sun for a couple of days, the girls do get a bit of a tan….& ere long look as though they actually are wearing eyeliner & lipstick!  it’s amazing how the sunshine can make us all feel – literally – like going out….

Alas, the weather for the Royal Welsh Smallholder & Garden Festival, wasn’t quite as kind.  We hadn’t taken a stall owing to the fact that we hadn’t anticipated Tony being at home (which as things eventually transpired, he ironically was).  And in fact the cost of a stall was suprisingly reasonable; around £50 for two days compared with around £600 for the Royal Welsh Show.  So – alas – we really did miss out.   Although I didn’t have a chance to attend on the first day I gather the weather was quite kind; however the second day was disastrous; with the showground constantly pounded by heavy rain.  One of my colleagues from Food Centre Wales had been lucky enough to get a ‘pitch’ away from the main Food Hall & on the first day had enjoyed a fairly brisk trade; however the second day was an absolute wash-out with the rain hammering down.  So; swings & roundabouts, I suppose.

I caught up with our dear friends from the NewLandOwner team, who reminded me just how far we’ve come since we originally attended their ‘Introduction to Smallholding’ course, back in 2005 when all this – in fact even owning a smallholding – was just a fanciful & seemingly unachieveable dream.  Sometimes things do seem to move frustratingly slowly; however when I recall all the things we’ve done, we really have come a remarkably long way…. 

Hedgerow flowers bring colour to an old cream pot (also found buried in the hedgerow!)

Hedgerow flowers bring colour to an old cream pot (also found buried in the hedgerow!)

Posted in Animals, Diary, Farming, Goats, Humour, Life, Livestock, May 2009, Nature, Smallholding | Leave a comment

Midnight Oil

 

Tony - midnight DIY

Tony - midnight DIY

Poor Tony’s been burning the midnight oil this week – building a Victorian handcart to bring elegance & chic to the scoop cabinet which has been languishing in the back of what will – one day – be our future Gelato Laboratory & Dairy.
This weekend we attended our first major event of the year: the West Wales Food Festival; & had got to the point where the size of the event had outgrown the limitations of our current equipment.  The small serveover & fridges are great for small one- or two-day events; but just not viable for the larger food festivals.
So it was, that I felt it was time to make the scoop cabinet more *ahem* portable; & to decorate it appropriately.  Unfortunately we only had a couple of days in which to bring the plan to fruition – & it was darn hard work.  First we had to plan what was required, then source the necessary materials (some £200′ worth of wood, wheels, screws, paint etc); then actually do the work. 
Tony spent a solid 24 hours building the handcart (during which time I felt so horribly guilty at the magnitude of the DIY task I’d set him that I too stayed usefully employed in sympathy; working in the Dairy Complex Control Room to tackle the hefty task of programming all our goats’ details into the milking parlour’s Metatron P21 computer system – & I’m still nowhere near finished!).
As soon as the basic structure was completed we spent the next twelve hours, painting it; choosing the Lovespoon colours as a smart & appealing livery.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get a more advanced vinyl décor printed in time; so had to ‘make do’ with attaching our banner to the front.  The final touch was a lovely handcrafted wooden cartwheel which really set the whole thing off & looked extremely impressively when finally in situ at the Show. 
The (almost) finished article...!

The (almost) finished article...!

The big problem, however, was then getting the handcart out of the building & into our lovely new freezer van, ready for the show – far easier said than done!  And once we got there we had to get it off the vehicle (having mislaid our carriage ramps – goodness knows where those handy bits of kit have got to) & get it into position on site – & we discovered our ‘pitch’ was situated on the side of a hill!
But all was well, in the end; & with the first day’s weather proving unseasonably warm & sunny, trading was pleasingly brisk – in fact we almost sold out.  Considering the scoop cabinet displays eight full Napoli Pans with the understore freezer holding a further twelve, this was an unusually high turnover; I certainly hadn’t expected to have to refresh our entire stock overnight & I know our fellow traders weren’t quite so lucky. 
In fact what was especially flattering was that famous Welsh ‘foodie’ Nerys Howell was holding one of her extremely popular cookery demonstrations; & she asked to have some of our gelato as the accompaniment of choice to serve with the dessert she’d made.  Sadly I missed her demo & only caught the concluding applause; but as the capacious marquee was packed to capacity & by the way people were flooding forward for samples, I felt I’d better forego buying us a quick cuppa & head straight back to the stand. 
Just as well, that I did; as for the next couple of hours we had a solid queue weaving right the way around the corner & I was scooping like a thing possessed while Tony took the money for our wares.  We sold out of Nerys’ sample flavour of Honeycomb, almost immediately; but our other highly innovative flavours quickly disappeared as well – people clearly welcomed a change from the ‘same old, same old’ which are typically offered by producers at such shows.  Personally I like to be refreshingly adventurous & flex our professional Gelatière muscles with extraordinary & delicious treats.
However after such a highly successful & lucrative first day, the Festival was blighted by appalling weather on the second; gritting our teeth in the face of the storm’s freezing wind & rain Tony spent half the day hanging onto the marquee to prevent it from taking off, whilst we munched warm Welsh cakes supplied by our stallholding neighbours from Popty Bach Y Wlad.
Nevertheless despite the inhospitable second-day temperatures we did pretty well; selling out of the ever-popular but unusual Dragonfire (dark chocolate laced with the smoky, sultry fire of ancho & chipotle chillies); Chocolate & Ginger (another heartwarming favourite); & our delicious Apple & Cinnamon Crumble, with our own orchard apples poached gently with cinnamon & brown sugar & scattered with crunchy layers of crumble, crafted especially for stormy days such as this.
But it wasn’t an entire washout as we still received plenty of trade enquiries & had certainly proved a hit with hundreds of highly satisfied new customers; not to mention being delighted to chat to many now increasingly-familiar faces who are proving fiercely loyal customers – many of whom are almost evangelical when spreading the good ‘Lovespoon‘ word – we thank you all!
What did make us genuinely unhappy, however – Tony in particular – was the fact that the popular Welsh TV programme ‘Ffermio‘ was broadcasting from the Festival; & whilst the traders to the left & right of us were interviewed, we were not – purely because our grasp of the Welsh language is not considered “good enough”.  
I’m a second-year Welsh student; & whilst far from fluent I can at least ‘have a go’.  Despite my exhausting working hours I nevertheless feel it is hugely important to integrate with the local community of which I am a part by becoming fluent in the first language; & hope one day to converse as comfortably in Welsh, as I can in English.  Meanwhile Tony was of course himself born & bred in South Wales; & was extremely shocked & hurt to apparently be deliberately overlooked in this way. 
In fact having both been Equal Opportunities Trainers whilst in the RAF we felt that on this occasion we were actually directly discriminated against – after all, S4C has interviewed English speakers in the past (especially for things like trotting races – where many of the jockeys don’t speak a word of Welsh!).  Tony was crushed to feel he’d been racially abused in his own nation; & I felt deeply disappointed that we’ve worked so hard to produce a Welsh product for the people of Wales, only to be overlooked as apparently worthless just because we don’t happen to speak the language fluently as yet. 
It’s ironic & poignant that our Welsh neighbours have been so welcoming, & genuinely appreciate our efforts; whereas even though we’re trying so hard we are being snubbed & made to feel we don’t quite ‘fit in’ by those we ourselves support through our work.  
Ironically I know of another company who more recently found themselves in a similar situation; we were chuckling about it together, the other day.  They were showcased on the programme a few weeks ago but said company’s ‘power behind the throne’ – the General Manager – was not actually interviewed; as he too doesn’t speak Welsh.  And yet he’s tirelessly contributing a tremendous amount to the economy of the county in which he lives & works.  Surely that should count for so much more, than a few words in the presenters’ native tongue…?!
Ah well.  In the end you could catch sight of us in several shots of the programme – however as the ‘Ffermio‘ website archive apparently hasn’t been updated in quite a while unfortunately I can’t direct you there to see how great we looked (shame I didn’t take my camera with me!).
And if the makers of the above programme happen to catch sight of this I’d welcome their comments; as the emails I’ve sent have thus far, sadly, been apparently ignored….
Posted in Dairy, Diary, Festivals, Food, Ice Cream, Life, Local Area, May 2009, Wales | 6 Comments

Chariots of Ice

Our new freezer van!

Our new freezer van!

So, here it is at last –

our new freezer vehicle!  It’s not the one we’d originally intended to buy but is actually significantly better (& cost about £9k more – ouch).  Whilst not brand new it’s only had one apparently careful owner &  sports an unusually low mileage.  In terms of temperature it can cover a very broad spectrum; so we can carry anything from ambient to chilled produce or (naturally) gelato, as required; going right down to a positively frosty -30°C!  So a handy vehicle to have.

Additionally important is that it has a single-phase standby facility which means it can act as an emergency or overspill freezer, if needs be.  Whilst this might not initially appear to be a critical consideration – & many similar-type vehicles don’t have it – we decided the extra investment would be worthwhile; particularly as at present there’s a fault with the door on Food Centre Wales’ main dairy freezer – it keeps popping open but without tripping the alarm, which is worrying as if it should happen over a warm weekend we could lose our entire stock – £1000s’ worth.  Also their freezer unit has been labouring, alarmingly with the fans icing up; so at least this way if something did happen we could salvage the majority – quickly, too.  Because although we could claim on FCW’s insurance for any losses incurred that’s not the issue: it takes time to build up a decent stock when you’re only permitted to produce for a couple of days per week; especially as with the summer season rapidly approaching we have to make the most of what we can get.  Also the standby facility is also very handy for larger shows & festivals; as you can carry a significant amount of stock without worrying about running out.

This van is also very comfortable to drive, & handles like a car (although the growl of the freezer unit kicking in, takes some getting used to!).  We were considering a smaller vehicle  – about the sixze of a ‘Postman Pat’ van; however once they’re fully insulated they have an extremely limited carrying capacity & at least we’ll ‘grow into’ this one rather than rapidly ‘growing out’ of it & having the worry of Yet More Investment only a little further, down the line. 

The only ‘downside’ is that decent freezer vehicles are few & far between on the second-hand market.  Chiller vehicles on the other hand are readily available & I do know some people would opt for the cheaper alternative, storing ice cream in insulated boxes in the back; however not only is it technically in breach of Food Hygiene regulations there is also the continual concern regarding degradation of stock quality – & of course, you don’t have that gem of a standby freezer should either yours pack up nor short-term frozen storage at shows.   But being so hard-to-come-by we had to collect this little beauty from a refrigerated vehicle specialist based in Poulton-Le-Fylde near Blackpool; which for us is a good five-and-a-half hour drive away across the dramatically scenic, winding  mountain roads of Snowdonia. 

On the way home we paused for a meal at a little place we know, on the outskirts of beautiful Bala Lake; which made the journey a bit more tolerable.  As it was our first outing Tony drove the van & I took the car, as I wasn’t used to driving a larger vehicle (& he of course, is used to ‘driving’ something far bigger – with wings on!) – however I’ll have to take the wheel ere long I suppose as another of my ‘many hats’ is that of delivery driver!  But with its smart new livery (courtesy of our patient-&-talented designer, Jamie from Action Graffix) we’ll certainly add style to the local tarmac!

Side view: watch out, Wales...!

Side view: watch out, Wales...!

All-in-all it’s been a busy week with another hugely informative True Marketing course on Public Relations, held over in Abergavenny (which also generated another impromptu trade inquiry – fantastic) & a trip to the coast to restock with straw – where we also discovered we can get bales of sweet, fresh lucerne & pea straw; which are highly nutritious & will be of significant benefit to our goats’ diet.  There was a single bale of lucerne left, which we bought to whet the Milkforce ladies’ appetites; whilst it looks tough & horrible it smells divine & the goats polished it off like a school of starving piranha – so it must be good!  Only the best for our girls.

And at least it’s not raining….much.

Posted in Animals, April 2009, Dairy, Diary, Farming, Food, Goats, Ice Cream, Life, Livestock, Smallholding, Wales | 2 Comments

Hot Stuff

 

Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales

 Whilst for those of us stuck here in changeable old Blighty the prospect of a Mediterranean Food Festival might seem slightly bizarre at this time of year, 

at the National Botanical Garden of Wales it would be unthinkable to hold such a celebratory-sunshine event, at any other time of the year. 

But, why…?  Well; for those who haven’t visited the Garden, it’s certainly well worth the trip: there is so much for the family to see & do across this beautifully-landscaped, extensive site. 

And the ‘crowning glory’ is the Great Glasshouse,;which is the largest single-span glasshouse in the world, covering some 3,500m², protecting & conserving some of the most endangered plants on our planet.

And right now things are looking particularly spectacular; for whilst many of us are still only just starting to hail the first modest green shoots of Spring putting in an appearance, here in the Glasshouse the plants are ‘blooming lovely’!  Because of its’ floral inhabitiants the Glasshouse sports a balmy, year-round Mediterranean climate; hence it is a particularly wonderful place to visit on an otherwise seemingly typical blustery-changeable UK weather-weekend, such as this. 

To celebrate the sultry Mediterranean Spring erupting naturally in the balmy environment of  the Great Glasshouse (wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the UK, I can tell you!) the finest artisan food producers gathered together to marry their diverse talents & applaud this multi-national Gourmet Food Festival; accompanied by diverse folk & even opera music to enhance an already warm-&-relaxed atmosphere.

With our traditional-yet-uniquely-modern goats’ milk recipe & crafting traditional Italian-style gelato made only with pure, natural igredients rather than just ordinary ice cream, as we do; we’d been privileged in our invitation to participate.

Day Two: a lull in the proceedings allows for a photo opportunity!

Day Two: a lull in the proceedings allows for a photo opportunity!

Tony & I hastened to the event; & after some initial confusion (there was also a Plaid Cymru* conference going on elsewhere in the grounds, & we were sent there by a confused car park attendant) we set out our stall & I got ready to trade; as Tony was returning to the Ffarm to finish the chores before ostensibly returning to assist me. 

Trading was initially quiet; with the first visitors only trickling in at around 10.15am.  I generally find that mornings are inevitably slow for us, anyway; apart from the occasional child shyly purchasing a cone things don’t usually ‘hot up’ until around lunchtime.  And with the weather outside somewhat cold & with an inhospitably grey sky even though the temperature within was comfortable ,there were initially few takers for our frozen treats. 

Mind you, the other traders found things similarly laid back; plenty of customers drifting past but few actually purchasing.  I soon had a solid, reciprocal trade going on with the marvellous chilli-&-chutney company, WhyNotHot; we’d met before at the Llanwrtyd Wells Food Festival a few weeks before & again sent customers to one another; mine, if they felt they needed warming up after consuming gelato; his, to cool down after eating ultra-hot chilli! 

Fellow goat-keepers & food producers Kid Me Not were also there, selling their diverse range of chocolates, cheeses & fudge (try the orange & ginger – delicious!); & a gentleman selling crêpes & wine – who we thought was onto a winner.  In fact we were all excitedly looking forward to pancakes for an early lunch when he was abruptly forced to close his stall; as ironically the unusual climate in the Glasshouse wouldn’t permit his hotplate to work properly.  So there were rumbling tummies all along the aisle as a result….

Situated as we were at the end of the traders’ row, we were adjacent to Ferranti; who sell gorgeous olive oil from a venerable 800-year-old grove in Spain.  I just had to buy a bottle of the delicious Sevillenca, its taste evocative of my many wonderful memories of the time I lived out in Italy for a while.  Mopped up with a chunk of rustic, crusty Mediterranean bread it proved the perfect snack for the weekend’s balmy climate whilst cocooned within the great glass dome. 

We were stunned by the talented opera singer, & I offered to translate for eager visitors:

“Oh yes, now she is waxing lyrical about the amazing Lovespoon gelato, how it makes her want to sing – & that its’ cool, velvety texture is perfect for her voice”, I intoned casually as I scooped, whilst they bust into laughter at my opportunism.  And when the man with the maracas struck up, & I had a scoop in each hand….well, it was my chance to have a dance – & it certainly attracted some highly-amused if curious customers!

At around lunchtime the pace picked up considerably; & I was soon scooping like a madwoman whilst there was still no sign of Tony.  He did attempt to telephone a couple of times, crossed wires assuming that I’d call if I needed his help; however of course as I was so busy I had no chance of answering. 

At last there was a brief lull, & I managed to contact him. 

“Where the Hell have you been?!” I sputtered angrily.  “I’m rushed off my feet, here.”

“Oh, sorry; I thought you were going to call if you needed any help.  I did try ringing you, but…”  his voice tailed off apologetically. 

Some assistance would be appreciated – I haven’t stopped all day.” I snarled.  He eventually arrived at around 4pm – just in time for a few final scoops before helping me pack up the stall until the following busy day (where thankfully we did work together – although ironically it was a little quieter & I could have just-about coped alone). 

I immediately took a much-needed break having not had a chance to pause, all afternoon; exhaustedly snatching a cup of coffee & going for a wander around the now near-deserted Glasshouse. 

Evening falls in the Great Glasshouse

Evening falls in the Great Glasshouse

Strange, hollow sounds were emitting from a far corner of the ‘globe’.  Was something wrong with the climate control, I mused, as I strolled out of Chile & across into Australia.  To my surprise in a shaded alcove sat an Aborigne playing a digeridoo, eyes closed, lost in a faraway world of his own. 

He was there again the next evening; the echoes reverberating rhythmically, atmospherically, around the insect’s-eye canopy of the dome.  A strangely small world…..

 

*Plaid Cymru – the leading Welsh political party.

Posted in April 2009, Culture, Diary, Festivals, Food, Life, Local Area, Locality, Markets, Nature, Wales | 5 Comments

Musical Goats

Look out for Lovespoon...!

Look out for Lovespoon...!

This has been another typically rushed-off-our feet week: with a big trade show at Newtown in mid Wales, & a humungous delivery to one of our favourite customers – Llanwrtyd Wells’  effervescent Info Centre, appropriately dubbed ‘In the Pink’ owing to its’ cheerful, flamingo-bright exterior (complete with a coral-coloured Robin Reliant!) & welcoming interior including a bustling Internet Café.  

It’s an especially laudable enterprise as the town’s original Information Centre was closed following a series of Government cuts; however not to be thwarted the townsfolk not only revived the Centre but have made this – officially the UK’s smallest town – one of the most thriving & off-the-wall places in Wales; hosting some of the most extraordinary & original events & festivities ever dreamed of (check out their website if you don’t believe me – bog snorkelling, anyone…?!).

Meanwhile the trade show I attended at Newtown has given us a few interesting leads (in fact I had a firm order placed, within less than two minutes of opening our micro Gelateria!) however we’re a little concerned that the distance is still geographically further than we’d currently like to travel; especially as we still haven’t collected our new delivery vehicle (yet). 

But as that’s only days away, we’re certainly making steady progress….

In addition the engineers from RMS have been over to do some more advanced work on the milking parlour.  When it was purchased, the system was set up for sheep; as it had a dual cluster (rather than a quadruple as for cows – sheep & goats only have four udders compared with the four of a cow).  The pressure was adjusted & all was apparently well. 

Upgraded goat clusters

Upgraded goat clusters

However, having worked with the system for a little while we’re finding that it isn’t quite right.  As the milk in the goats’ udders is extracted the clusters have had a tendency to ride up uncomfortably, chafing the teats; & in addition the single vacuum line was taking milk from both udders simultaneously rather than alternately, which our goats are naturally more used to; as we start them after their first kidding with a little gentle handmilking first from the ground & then standing them on a low platform so that nothing is ever too stressful.   So with their long-term comfort in mind, it was well worth the investment to adapt the milking parlour in the most perfect possible way, for our lovely ladies. 

We’ve changed the vaccum lines from single to dual, to more accurately mimic hand milking; & in addition had stainless steel goat weights & buffers fitted to the clusters to ensure a more natural ‘drop’ for the teats (much as when a kid is suckling). 

The result?  Happy, contented milking goats – especially when their favourite Bryn Terfel CD is echoing throught the parlour….so; next on the ‘wish list’ is a better CD player as this one isn’t quite loud enough to be heard clearly at Armeria’s end of the Parlour.  And she doesn’t-half complain, if she can’t sing along with either her darling Bryn; or her favourite from ‘The Sound of Music’ – of course….!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-dQYBH-7dQ&feature=related

 

 

However,

Posted in Animals, April 2009, Dairy, Diary, Emporia, Entertainment, Farming, Goats, Life, Livestock, Local Area, Music, Smallholding, Wales | Leave a comment