Thursday, 21 May 2015

The wee (not so) tim’rous, cowering beasties…

Sometimes I really feel like Sisyphus. No sooner have we had a minor celebration for some seeds coming up (any excuse for a beer really) then there seems to be a legion of pests out there hell bent on devouring our seedling plants. If it’s not snails on the kale in the greenhouse then it’s slugs having a runner bean frenzy on the veg plot. And some things we’ve planted have not even got off the starting grid. Take the peas for example. Despite lovingly soaking them for 24 hours, spending days preparing a trench full of our finest hen manure and compost, and then covering them with chicken wire, somehow not a single one has popped up.  We strongly suspect that mice are the culprits and I can just picture them, in the dead of night, dancing around on my pea patch in some bacchanalian feast of delicious sprouted peas.

I blame the cat. He is getting very slack. After some early “quick wins” (*City lingo alert*) it seems he has “picked all of the low hanging fruit” (*City BS par excellence*), which resulted in some lovely decapitated mice at the back door (and also gave rise to his name – Cooper…. think about it). He now prefers to while away the days in the barn, luxuriating in elaborate grooming routines and long naps. Whenever I pass he looks at me with an expression of: “What? You expect me to get off my rather beautiful bottom and actually go and catch some mice? Really? Forget it”.  I’ve never seen anything look quite so disdainful in all my life. Timorous and cowering? I think not.

Yes?... was there something?

Even the poor lawn, after its recent abuse of a winter’s worth of rainwater and being ‘doughnutted’ by a one and a half tonne Landrover, has not escaped the pest extravaganza.  It seemed a mole was attempting some sort of geometric experiment with new mole hills appearing daily. Something had to be done. RSPCA officers and members of the Mole Appreciation Society please look away now. Picture the scene: a 6’3’’ hairy Scot, all togged up in heavy duty deer stalking clobber – dark green shooting jacket, camo balaclava, top of the range binoculars, The Works - standing stock still right in the middle of the lawn with a 7lb sledgehammer at his feet like some crazed, macabre croquet player. Then all of a sudden I swear I have never, ever seen him move so fast, he charges and swiftly bonks the top of the emerging mole hill before darting off in the opposite direction to grab the pitchfork “just to make sure”. It may not be the way the farmers around here do it but it was certainly effective (the mole would have known nothing about it) and, from my vantage point at the bedroom window, probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Who needs a 100lb deer as a target when you can pit your wits against a 4 inch rodent…?

Attack of the moles

It may come as no surprise to you to learn that the two things seemingly impervious to the onslaught of pests and disease are, yep, you guessed it, nettles and rhubarb. At the risk of becoming as repetitive and predictable as one of those survival TV programmes where they subsist for weeks on end eating just periwinkles and coconuts, only with shitter weather and more clothing, this week we have been experimenting with roasted rhubarb ketchup. Mr Heinz, eat your heart out!

Anyone for rhubarb, ...again?

So it seems we either of too much of something (mice, slugs, moles) or too little (veg, eggs, cooperative cats). All of which seems to be telling us that unlike nice, neat project plans and large teams of people that I’m used to working with, although we may technically own the land, in no way do we control it and in many ways it now owns and controls us. Like all of the previous people who’ve lived here, right back to our Iron Age ancestors who hung out on our hill fort, we’re all really just passing through as visitors who barely make an impact on Mother Nature’s stronghold here. The fact that we provide the odd tasty pea shoot or some lush young kale leaves is really just the icing on an otherwise very nice cake for these creatures. I guess the trick is going to be learning how we can all live happily alongside each other and that I suspect could be a life’s work...

But there is however one beastie around here that is quite happy to tow the party line.   Our loyal ‘Springador’, Bru, continues to wander about the place looking still slightly flummoxed that this is in fact now his domain. With his big puppy dog eyes he is always opportunistically hoping that one of us will throw him a stick or anything really that he can retrieve for us to make sure he stays up front and central in our affections. Rather than that dratted farm cat he is now expected to befriend, despite all his doggly instincts!

So how can I help?

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