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An itinerant observer and thinker about life in general, sharing some moments of wandering and wonderment.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


The last day of July ... a drop in temperature ... no blue skies, a lot of cloud cover ... rain!
Acres of turned hay in one of my favourite fields laid waste, not even baled for silage, yet.
This belongs to the farm where Ffin was born and were the baler needed spares from Germany at a phenomenal cost of thousands of pounds to mend much needed machinery.
It's a sad sight.
Our local farmers have been working from early morning until dusk and in some cases in the hours of near darkness. Today was also market day, so they've also been busy getting lambs and ewes for today's sales. Luckily at the moment the prices are fairly reasonable but ... not much margin of profit when compared the the long hours and hard graft required for those working with livestock. One farmer was too busy elsewhere to get his silage bales back on the farm and so the silage bales were left on the field for another day.
One of the reasons that our farming folk like to get these huge bales safely stored on the farm, is that some pranksters find it amusing to set them off, rolling down hill. Not only is this a dangerous thing to do, it also means that some of these bales end up in deep ravines, this being hill farming country and end up beyond the ability to recover them. These bales weigh at least 250 kg's and have to be handled by sturdy machinery, usually a tractor with forks, they end up in places a tractor can't access, so they go to waste, rotting away when they could have supplied so many sheep or cattle with winter fodder. Not funny!
An important nitrogen fixing plant and an important addition in a well balanced variety of grasses and flowering plants in a hay crop is the insect attracting red clover
<<< and this year I have found some of the biggest flowers I have ever seen. All that wet weather induced some lush growth. To give you an idea of how large the flowers were ... 
I put one of the clover heads on my mobile phone. The sad thing was that when I took this photo ten days ago, it was ... raining!
That meant that very few butterflies and bees were out busily pollinating. In the hay crop, most of the flowering species were past their best, even though the grasses were taller than normal which for some, meant a heavier yield per acre than normal.
Another sight just over ten days ago, was my first sighting of a Fox moth caterpillar, earlier than usual. Last year I saw literally hundreds of these on the moorland, they were everywhere and what beautiful creatures they are, yet the adult moth with a the Latin name Macrothylacia rubi is very unauspicious looking creature.
Yesterday ... I showed you a cocoon on a  moorland rush ... I've yet to identify what it is but inside is a black, inch long chrysalis. Rushes are invasive plants.
This is the type of a most rampant species >>>
to be found on the commons. It spreads amazingly and overtakes good grazing with it's thick growth, mostly inedible to the grazing sheep, except when very young and less tough. In the flatter areas, it can be harvested and baled as winter bedding for cattle, as can the bracken, another invasive plant. It was on one of the stems of these that yesterday I found that cocoon, which on closer inspection has a chrysalis inside. Belonging to what, I don't yet know, but hopefully I may get some answers to that little enigma in the weeks ahead. There is another species of rush too, that is shorter and starts with a wine glass shaped growth.
One flowers half way up the stem and each of these flowering heads contains about 150 seeds. (I know I counted them) The other, less tall rush on the left, flowers on a single stem, producing about 5o seeds. Young plants, spread out on a round, which reminds me of sprigs of rosemary in focaccia bread. Apparently the Juncus family are hard to identify ... any one out there who can help? Meanwhile I will leave you with this, a close up of the wonderfully attractive seed heads ...

It makes a change from waffling on about hay!

Monday, 30 July 2012


This morning there was a change in the  weather as yet another front heads our way ...
the clouds were more prominent today and that is the end of hay making for this year.

<<< on this field where the mini bales were harvested, the sheep were let loose to forage where they may. The harvest here was good this year, with almost double the crop compared to previous years but the mini bales take a lot of effort to get safely stored and the farming family were working until dark to get the whole of the harvest safely stored in the farm barn. Luckily they managed before the weather changed to overnight rain. Others were not quite so lucky despite all the dawn to dusk efforts of many local farmers and what could have been large bales of  hay got dampened by the rain and had to be turned in to bales of silage.
These were yesterdays fields >>>
with the large, plastic wrapped bales, but at least for winter fodder, the crop is not totally wasted, both sheep and cattle will be well fed during the winter months ahead and for this farmer over 30 acres of land has been harvested in a mixture of hay and silage. His sheep will be well cared for in the colder months of the year when they come in from the commons to the in bye fields.
Meanwhile another farmer brings a down country hay harvest safely back home ...
These big four foot wide bales, equate approximately to ten to twelve mini bales, but where as these can be totally harvested by one man and various machines, the mini bales need many willing human hands to bale, load and store. That all adds to the price for those that want the smaller bales for the feeding of horses. Last year mini bales reached a high price of about  £8.00 per bale. expensive but one can see why given the manual effort needed to harvest the hay in that way. So few realise the long hours our farmers work to produce a crop, many here have been up from early morning until long after dusk.

Another hard working insect has been creating this pupae case.  Now I have no idea what created this small cocoon that I found on a rush stem today,but obviously the effort involved by such a small insect is quite amazing and probably comparable to the hours that have been put in to ensuring that the future of our farming carries on to next year. Be it insect or human, one thing is for sure ... many of this wide variety of life is trying to ensure that the there is a continuation of each species for the future. And an amazing thing to think about is that, somehow, what ever the weather, there is something different happening every day. It just takes a little time to notice the changes. The cocoon is safe home here, it has an inch long, black crysalis inside, so hopefully something identifiable will emerge from it's casing. It really is a wonderful construction and not one I've seen on the rushes on the commons land here. It may take sometime to update you on this one.
Brief addition re large hay bales , I got a better photograph of this well laden tractor, bringing home part of the down country harvest. There are 24, 4ft bales on this Marshall's trailer ...  given the weight of each bale is at least 250 kg's , that's one helluva weight for a trailer of hay! No wonder he was driving so slowly and carefully.
But at least, the winter feed for this farm's cattle and sheep is safely harvested in.
Now ... due to the wet weather, many acres of potential hay had to be turned into silage. This is where the damp hay is now baled in plastic wrap which prevents the contents turning mouldy by denying the crop air and also encouraging the heat to ferment it. These bales weigh considerably heavier and need careful handling so as not to spike the bales.
Plastic wrap can be pale green or black, apparently the colour makes little difference to the fermentation process and the bales are easier to deal with than huge silage pits.
The harvest of all these four foot bales comes in at about 10 - 12 per acre. On this farm the  mowing machinery wasn't cropping as low as possible leaving about 5 - 6 inches of grass meaning the loss of a bale per acre. This may not seem much ... but over a harvest of 30 acres, that's a loss of 30 bales (hay or silage) to be stored for winter feed, which is quite a considerable amount come the harshness of our mountain, snowbound winter months.
Another problem is moving just four bales at a time from the out-bye fields to the home farm barn, takes four, slow, carefully driven trips up and down the slopes of the mountain just for this small field. All this takes hours out of the working day, but worth the effort.

Sunday, 29 July 2012


Today, the last Sunday in July and the weather according to the forecast was in for a change. It was definitely cooler here after some rain overnight and today there was a refreshing westerly breeze and as you will see, some wonderful cloud formations.
Trogging the dog, I met one of our local "birders" who pointed out this hidden nest ...
<<< a chaffinch had built this wonderful, mainly sphagnum moss constructed nest in a prickly gorse bush. I pass this way often and would never have noticed this little treasure.
A chaffinch nest, carefully built home for eggs and chicks, with sheep's wool interwoven with fresh green moss. The guy I spoke to is also an avid photographer with a huge telephoto lens which put my pocket size digital to shame but I managed to get these shots of the nest in an incredibly "thorn unfriendly" position. Sadly, he told me, that even this effort of nest building had, due to the inclement weather weeks ago, failed to save the survival of the chicks, just like my much guarded Meadow Pipit nest. For his photographs on the web.
We walked on across another boundary between hayfields an the commons. The clouds were impressive in the sky above us and a steady cool breeze was blowing across the fields. Just a few weeks ago, these were being grazed by sheep but now as you can see they have turned into a potential hay harvest. I make no apologies for constantly mentioning hay over this last week, it is an essential part of winter feed for cattle and sheep. Up here on the mountain, the seasons can change dramatically and come the snow bound winters, hay is essential fodder for herd and flock.
The above shows three vast fields awaiting to be baled and the hay safely in storage. Talking to Dad today, he witnessed an an unusual sight of loads of hay and straw being transported at the same time. That ... is not normal for the south east of England! Here in the high lands of Wales, we don't grow cereal crops, our area is more meat orientated. It seems that this change in the flow of the Gulf Stream is creating havoc across the country.
After last night's rain, these hay fields are damp and will most probably baled as silage.
<<< Some unwelcome species of plants are growing unbelievably tall. The thistle shown here was taller than me and multi-flowered ... which means come the windblown spread of seeds, this particular plant will spread exponentially. Mostly inedible to sheep, this causes a huge problem on the commons. Not many animals eat thistles except donkeys (none of those around here!) On private land these are weed sprayed to reduce the numbers of plants, but on the commons there is very little thistle control, consequently they spread at an alarming rate. The sad thing is that these are attractive to many species of butterflies, bees and flies, it really is a case of who survives? The birds need the insects and seeds, we need our meat (apart from vegetarians) and the whole cycle of life is in a precarious balance, dependent on local conditions.
Meanwhile there is still a hay crop to be gathered in before the rain sets in and ... as the clouds gather in at times spectacular formation, we can at least appreciate dramatic skies.

Saturday, 28 July 2012


As I start writing this evening, it is sunny outside ... and ... raining! Now, gardeners are probably glad of this after these long, hot, dry days but for our local farmers who are still working all hours to get the last of the hay baled and stored in the dry, it's a shame.
This morning we headed for the boundary between the commons and one of my favourite fields. When I posted "Between stone and steel" the hay was due to be harvested, but this belongs to the farmer who is awaiting spares from Germany for his machinery, so today another farmer was helping him out by cutting the rest of these acres of hay.
There is quite a slope to this field and today there was a fairly strong breeze, rustling the leaves of the beech trees as well as drying the newly mown hay. But even as we walked along the boundary the skies were changing. Everywhere I could see and hear tractors working desperately hard trying to get this valuable crop harvested before the rain forecast for the week ahead. The air was sweet scented and around us flocks of different birds were doing aerobatics catching insects above the grassland. Newly fledged skylarks and meadow pipits were practising flying, bees and butterflies were foraging it was lovely, but the clouds were already appearing.
Clouds were gathering in the sky and scudding across the landscape beneath them. The air was cooling and much as we were enjoying the change in the weather my heart went out to our hard working farmers who were working so hard to harvest a very valuable crop.
At times it seemed as though the rain was going to arrive early as darker clouds gathered overhead and overshadowed the newly mown hayfields, but as yet ... no rain.
At least for this farm some of the hay is safely baled and stored. I love these fields with their guardian beech trees where the hay has already been mown, baled and safely stored. I say safely for a reason. These farmers crop in the big round hay bales.
Now ... it seems to amuse some local folk to set these huge bales rolling down hill, often into deep ravines were the bales are beyond recovering. They don't seem to realise all the hard work involved in gathering this annual harvest. And for most of our farmers they simply do not have time to watch what is happening in the Olympics, they are too busy working hard through the daylight hours or too tired to catch up with all but the briefest of news. For them, The Olympics is something far removed from a days hard graft. Many of them were also miners when times were so hard that a farm could not support a son. Now many of them face retirement but still carry on because their sons or daughters are not interested in the hard graft and long hours of farming.  Yet we still need their  produce  on our tables.
They deserve their own medal!

Friday, 27 July 2012


This morning at twelve minutes past eight GMT, Big Ben started a wave of bell ringing around Britain as part of the big countdown of hours to the opening night of some very large event over the border in our capital city. Something to do with athletic prowess, (something started off by the ancient sporting Greeks). Here it was another dog day, hot!
Far across the valley I could hear a tractor mowing a hay field that shone out golden amongst the green of the trees and other fields. With the rain due in this weekend they are making the most of this chance to get their winter fodder safe in dry storage. Sadly one neighbouring farmer has had his baler break down and is awaiting for spares all the way from Germany, this has meant several days loss at a vital time and he is having hire others to get his hay bobbed & baled in an effort to get it all in during this window of weather.
"Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun." to quote the line from the song. We were sensible and headed for the cool, tree shady paths in the forestry. There was enough breeze to move the deciduous leaves and overhead the buzzards were riding the thermals above the forest canopy. But I noticed the orange markers on the trunks of many along the path. This means they are due for felling, so soon, this lovely cool walkway will be more open to the elements. These trees are mature and have had their day as far as the Forestry Commission are concerned, so we went to see how the newly planted, next generation were coping with this recent heat wave.
This meant braving the open spaces were the old brashings looked like bleached bones.
But barely visible without looking closer and in very pale, nutrient poor soil ...
they all surprisingly seem to be doing rather well, the last time I saw them  was in the post "New Growth" on 14th of April. Back then I wondered if they would survive they looked rather poorly and I was wondering why they had been planted on the top of mounds that would surely dry out too quickly in such an exposed area. But, I guess we can again be grateful for the months of rain, that has helped this new generation of forest send young roots downwards and fresh green growth upwards. No sign of viruses here, unlike the computer which was having an appointment with P.C. Doctors, to have a virus removed from the hard drive, a painless operation for the "pooter" not that my wallet felt the same way. Anyway, it now has new antiviral software fitted and is working reasonably again. On the way back to pick it up from respite care, we stopped off at another area of forest for another short, shady, cool walk. Imagine our surprise at this sign ... "Tree Killer on the loose." No not some loony with a chainsaw but a pathogen, that effects many species, such as Oak, Rhododendron & Pieris and even our whinberries! I've been a aware of this for a few years now and watch our local plants constantly for signs.
As I mentioned in an earlier post these are also called baeberries, whortleberries etc.
In this case it is killing off the Japanese Larch trees in this area of forestry. Notice the dual language sign. obligatory in all paperwork and signs in Wales, by law. despite the 100% increase in usage of paper and metal signs such as these. A bone of contention for many. Phytopthora ramorum is a water born mould that needs "damp conditions to spread successfully" (www.woodlands.co.uk)  well after these last weeks of constant drizmality it has been in it's element. As so graphically shown in the sign, we humans can also be carriers of spores. That means cleaning all footwear after leaving the forested area.
Two other species caught my eye today as showing problems, oak and sycamore.
Both were looking sickly, losing leaves all marked with these "mud splash" coloured spots and in the case of the sycamore, all those I saw had lost almost all their leaves. It is far too early in the year for that to happen and it is all very worrying to see it happening.
It's rather ironic really that with my now virus free "pooter" I am now googling plant viruses and pathogens and I haven't even started telling you about another pest of a plant I recently found locally ... Himalayan Balsam. Watch this blog for that invasive plant!
Then just as I was enjoying the heady scent of Meadow Sweet, the taste of wild strawberries and rasberries, my vista was spoiled by another pest of the forest ... humans.
I find sights like this everywhere. Thanks to supermarket "Ready, steady, barbecue " sets"
folk seem to think it is O.K to carry their fire making tools, food and booze to fairly remote places, have a good time, then leave their rubbish behind. Strange is it not that they have the energy to carry these items, when heavy over at times quite long distances, but not have enough strength left over to carry the remnants back to a suitable dustbin. I found the inevitable empty Fosters cans, floating further downstream ... 
Another pest I've never had trouble with until this year ... midges. I've turned into itchy and scratchy but ... the old boy I met up at Cwncelyn the other week, reccomends putting Listerine mouthwash on skin and hair ... all I can say is ... try it ... it works ... except ... when you forget to glaze yourself with a breath freshener!
Oh well, as I type this, the hype of the Olympics opening ceremony is about to begin.
It will make a change from forestry denuding pathogens.

Thursday, 26 July 2012


Dog Days, is a phrase that has been used since ancient times to refer to the hottest days of summer. The Greeks and Romans associated the Dog Star Sirius, the brightest in the sky  and believed that with it being so close to the Sun during "summer" months, it was responsible for the hot weather. Apparently dogs grew mad during these times, they certainly don't like the heat. Well over these last days it's been hard to keep my collie cool.
One way, was to take him down to the Canyon, where the deep lake has been topped up again after the weeks of rain. A sun trap on days like we have recently had, but it's offset by the chance of a swim, for the dog that is, not me! I was actually  slightly envious of the mad mutt diving into the water, creating a splash and ripples across it's surface.
It's a good way to cleanse his coat of all the accumulated dust too. Then he get's sun and breeze dried, no need for towels. The other consideration required is to walk him where he has access to water for drinking and what better place than an old bath in one of the newly mown and baled hayfields.
This is a watering hole he has known since he was a pup, there is a steady drizzle of water coming down the pipe off the mountain and rarely dries up. It's more overgrown than it used to be but he still simply cannot resist sticking his nose in to see where this refreshing source of water comes from.
Then along a footpath at the edge of a hay field that has yet to be mown and baled ...
Notice the  clear blue sky  >>>
with just a few clouds beginning to gather after days of no cloud cover.
This photo was taken yesterday evening and by morning the sky was full of them but we were still under swelteringly hot sun. Today we went up to see how the hay making was going on a farm that still does the old style small bales.
Ffin was in hay making heaven, met by three female dogs, he had a fan club all to himself. The two collies are working dogs and went to the farmers when whistled, but the German Shepherd adores him and wanted to stay and play after watching the other two leave ...
And play they certainly did, until both gave up puffing and panting. The Shepherd definitely had the edge, energy wise and working collies never seem to want to stop. They seemed to want to herd the mini bales (due to a lack of sheep in this field at least).
Talking to the farmers it seems that this years hay crop has been exceptional. Usually they reckon on 100 mini bales per acre, this year that has almost doubled to200 per acre. Extra work is now involved to get all the bales in home and dry. Rain is forecast for the weekend
sadly this also means that all our local farmers are so busy making the most of that old saying "Make hay while the sun shines" that they are unable to go to The Royal Welsh Show which has seen record figures of attendance this year. It must be hard for those that are showing their animals in the ring who have also wanted to harvest their hay. Tough decisions must have been made but at least for our local folk, who are not showing livestock, their winter feed will be safely in before the weather breaks. I know at least one dog who will appreciate the break in this unprecedented heat wave, it has been far too hot. Me ... I find the heat hard to cope with as I get older. It's quite a thought that we have something in common with our ancient ancestors, but at least our dogs are not mad.
Though mine is crazy enough to love swimming in icy cold water!

Monday, 23 July 2012


Today has been just perfect for producing good quality hay. Clear blue skies, hot sun and best of all a light breeze. On July 3rd in "Drizmal" I showed a photo of a small hay field ...
<<< the overnight wind had caused havoc in the ripening long  grasses, it recovered and then the same happened again some days later. At the time, it seemed that this years hay might never get the chance to be mown and baled. We had already had three months of the year registering the heaviest rainfall since records began.
Luckily in just the last few days, things have changed.

This was the same field today >>>
The grass had recovered and was upright enough for the hay to be mown, turned and baled and I took this photo as the huge cylindrical bales were being stored in the farm yard over the road. The air at the moment is filled with that lovely scent of hay harvesting.
It starts with the first cut, when one can see the lines of where the tractor and mower have been, and that smell of freshly cut grass with all it's flowers like clovers and hawksbit beginning to dry in the sun as the moisture in the plants begins to evaporate. Then the following day, the farmer goes in with the hay bob and turns it over. That's when the distinct lines disappear.
The grass is shaken up further to allow the air to dry it better  and already within just 24 hours, the colour has changed quite dramatically. It should feel dry to the touch and sweet scented. With a breeze like today's it dries quickly.
The clear blue skies with a slight breeze today were perfect and as local farmers everywhere were making the most of this window of ideal weather, the air reverberated with the sound of tractors busy in the fields. Some, like this scene from a peek over an old stone wall, were just starting the first cut of another area ripe for cropping ...
Most of the farmers around here go for the big round bales, which raised a question in my mind ... "How many round bales per acre?" So I googled it and got very conflicting answers, one of the best I found (but least informative) was "How long is a piece of string." Not very helpful! Apparently it depends on the size of the baler, the length of the grass and so on. So I will have to wait until I can ask one of our local farmers, when they stop still long enough, and I will update you with the answers I get at some later stage.
Meanwhile I will leave you with this as a comparison between still growing and fresh cut.