Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The loneliness of the long distance neep singler

I'm procrastinating, prevaricating, delaying, watching the diving at the Olympics. . . I'm sitting on my fat backside when I should be working.

The trouble is that the job waiting for me is dealing with these fellas. . . .

Neeps, turnips or - in England - swedes. I've no idea what they're called in Sweden. They're great food for pigs and not at all bad for humans. I like them roast in big chunks next to the joint or mashed with tatties to make clapshot. They're also good in Orkney patties - leftover mince, tatties and neeps made into patties, battered and deep fried.

Still, before we get to that stage, we have to grow the things. My neighbour Jimmy kindly brought up his old seed drill and sowed the best part of 40 rows, each one about 50m long.

Sadly it's not a case of sitting back and letting them grow. The field was occupied by pigs last year and the rows have become choked with docks which need to be cleared and the neeps have to be singled - or thinned out. The picture above shows a thinned out row next to some overgrown rows.

There's no mechanical way of doing it, so it's out with the hoe and get stuck in. It's a time-consuming job and I'm lucky that Jim is prepared to muck in and help. Actually he's done more than that. A lifetime's farming experience sometimes comes in handy and Jim (below) is a demon with a hoe, clearing weeds and flicking away unwanted seedlings with ease.

It's not so easy for mere farming mortals like myself and I've been nursing a sore back and the odd blister for a week or so now. It's also not good for the ego as Jim clears three rows in the time it takes me to do one.

Anyroadup, we're nearly there with only three-and-a-half rows left to do and I'm going to make the effort to do them myself. I hope the pigs appreciate my efforts. Time to get my fat backside moving.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Same old same sow

I looked over the fence into Molly's paddock and rattled the bucket. The paddock remained stubbornly sow-free.

Knowing Molly's previous, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach, memories of chases across fields and even up the island's main road flashing through my mind. A quick look inside the pigshed revealed a further absence of large pig, so I headed back towards the house, passing the hen run where I was forced into a massive double-take.

I'm pretty sure pigs have no truck with the concept of embarrassment, but Molly looked ready for a rethink as she gave me a sort of pleading look through the chicken wire.

With her paddock bordering the hen run, she'd obviously fancied the look of the layer pellets I'd put out for the chickens and had given the mesh a good push, opening up a seam big enough for her to squeeze through, the wire springing back to leave her trapped.

Scrambling inside the hen run (it's 5ft high and I'm 6ft) I tried to undo the wire and open it up enough for Molly to get through while she tried to take a bite out of my backside. I eventually managed to shove her back into her paddock, with the side-effect that the hens escaped and headed off towards the vegetable garden.

Fearing for my cabbages (four varieties this year!) I ran* after them and 20 minutes, a lot of arm-waving, cajoling and foul swearing later had my feathered friends shut away again, the wire secure again with a couple of pallets screwed into Molly's side just to make sure. Tea has rarely been so welcome.

As it happens, Molly is now seven years old and has produced 11 litters at an average of more than 10 piglets each time. Her last litter was born in April and she really struggled to keep them fed, losing weight dramatically right from the start of nursing. Despite my trying to fill her up with high-protein feed she got terribly skinny. I weaned the piglets after seven weeks - a week earlier than normal, but she continued to produce milk for what seemed like an age and has only just started to put some weight back on.

As a result I've decided it's time for her to retire. That would normally mean a date with a large shotgun or even a trip to a German sausage factory, but I reckon Molly deserves better. She's going to spend a couple of years at least in a quiet corner of the croft as a pet pig/rotovator. It's not good modern farming practice, but who cares?

* Actually I don't run these days and never did very often unless it was in pursuit of a ball or pint.