A picturesque landscape…

As we drive out of our village towards the motorway for another of our trips to TV land, we get a lovely view of the high tors of Dartmoor in the distance. For quite a few weeks in January, the tors were covered in snow, as was much of the moorland area and the communities within it.

One of the many attractions of this beautiful area are the Dartmoor ponies that roam the moorland alongside grazing cattle and sheep. They are incredibly sweet and you will often see young foals by the road, barely able to stand on their ludicrously long legs, with their hugely round mothers watching protectively nearby.

They are hardy animals and, unless snow cover is very deep and prolonged, they manage to forage quite well. Contrary to what most people think, the ponies on Dartmoor are not truly wild animals. They are all owned by farmers, who let them out on to the commons to graze for most of the year and this is where most visitors to Dartmoor come across them.

They are an integral part of the moorland landscape and are a part of the area’s cultural heritage and important for conservation grazing.

Dartmoor National Park is home to the native breed Dartmoor Pony. But not all the ponies on Dartmoor look the same. Importing other breeds has created various colours and shapes and some of them are absolutely gorgeous – I’ve seen a spotted one, just like a Dalmation!

The ponies live out on the moor all year round. They spend most of the time in small herds of mares with one adult stallion and young ponies. Local farmers who keep ponies get together to clear ponies off their particular common. These round ups are called ‘drifts’ and are held in late September and early October. Once, driving across the moor to Tavistock, we came across a drift, and stopped to watch. What a magical sight it was as all these ponies streamed down across the hillside, crossing the road in front of us, and then down to the collecting pens.

Once in the pens, ponies are separated into groups according to ownership. The health of all the animals is checked, and treatment is given where appropriate. After the drifts pony keepers decide which ponies to sell. The rest are returned to the moor until the following year. And so the cycle continues…

 

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Traumatic times for chickens!

Winter is a tricky time for chickens. My Hen Pal, Julia, has been telling me all about their woes! None of her five hens laid an egg from mid-November until mid-January – a combination of short daylight hours, dismal weather and their old age.

Rather sweetly, when we had our first really sunny January day, one of the hens heaved out a very weird offering. When Julia first brought it in at teatime, it was whole, but with a patchy, sandy texture, and a curious bump on one end.

By the following morning, the sub-standard eggshell finish had cracked in the warmth of the house and the whole thing looked rather sorry for itself, as you can see in the photo.

Up on Dartmoor where Julia lives, they had quite a covering of snow for almost a week. The chickens refused to come out of their coop unless a patch of earth had been scraped clear. They would then proceed, cautiously, to come outside and eat, drink and scratch around normally, but staying on the cleared area. One brave one did trot across the snow, but then made a point of showing how cold her feet were!

Strangely, the snow brought on even more eggs, possibly because of the amount of reflected light, and they have been producing one egg a day quite regularly for the rest of January.

Who knows how chickens’ minds work? Well, who’d want to, frankly, but these eggy offerings can be taken as a sign that the days are lengthening and that spring is definitely on the way!

 

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Ducklings ahead!

We are fortunate enough to have ducklings in our stream most years – last year I believe there were 10 that waddled through our garden and, at one point, sat outside our French windows and waited patiently while their Mum pecked on the glass with her beak, presumably to speed up the lunch service!

Let’s hope we are as lucky this year in the number of our quacking visitors – it’s one of my biggest joys in life, having the stream running through our garden and the wildlife it encourages (OK maybe not the water rats … they can stay away!).

This image of ducklings was painted for us by Jayne Netley Mayhew as part of her Spring decoupage collection. The minute I saw it, I knew I would love making cards with it.

The backgrounds here are from Holly Pond Hill CD and then an embossed square of pale green card. Using embossing folders is a favourite technique of mine – it adds texture, interest and I have fun embossing them!

The decoupage can be as shallow or as deep as you like – this has been done with just the smallest amounts of Pinflair glue gel to build it up, but it’s easy to use large blobs and get a much more pronounced 3D effect – depends what you want for the finished look!

I’ll let you know how many ducklings come and live in the garden temporarily this year!

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Local food producers: The South Devon Chilli Farm

I am fortunate to live in a county rich in locally grown and produced foods. Devon is unique in England in having a coastline on both its northern and southern edges and it’s an area where farming livestock is still an important part of the economy. We are also blessed with lots of artisan cheese makers, bakers and vintners, our climate being suited to all sorts of exciting foody businesses. Through my blog I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our local producers and I hope you will be inspired to try their produce and their recipes!

The South Devon Chilli Farm

Admittedly, the words ‘Devon’ and ‘chilli’ don’t immediately go together, but a thriving and nationally-known, chilli farm is situated about 20 miles away from my home in picturesque south Devon!

I visited it with my chilli-mad son-in-law a few years ago and was amazed at the variety of chillies grown and the array of colours and sizes… and heat!

The South Devon Chilli Farm has been growing chillies on an increasingly large scale since 2003. It has expanded a lot over the years and now grows over 10,000 chilli plants each year and harvests tonnes of fresh chillies. Most of the chillies are used in their range of chilli sauces, preserves and chilli chocolate.

Their website is very informative and includes detailed tips on growing chillies yourself and cooking with them. It also has a selection of recipes. Here’s a quick one you might like to try:

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Piri-Piri Marinade

The marinade can be made two to three days before using.

  • 200ml lemon juice
  • 200ml rapeseed oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 10 dried Piri Piri , de-stalked and crushed 
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Simply whisk the ingredients together in a bowl.

This marinade can be used to make Piri-Piri chicken (also on the website), or cooked for 10 minutes and brushed onto hot corn on the cob, drizzled over grilled chicken, or used as a dunking sauce for bread. Yum yum!

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Chilli seeds are sown in February each year and the fruits harvested from July to November. The South Devon Chilli Farm’s main site is 10 acres of land with a production barn just outside the village of Loddiswell. This is open to visitors all year, with a small shop and, in summer, a show tunnel to display the many colourful shapes and sizes of chilli. Believe me, it’s well worth a visit!

When we went, we wandered among the fruiting chilli plants, and tried their sauces and preserves and, of course, their amazing dark chilli chocolate made on the farm! We left laden down with fresh chillies, chilli seedlings, plants, seeds and chocolate, and a very happy son-in-law!

Have a look at the South Devon Chilli Farm website where you will find all sorts of interesting facts about. You can also order their products online.

PS. Just in case you get carried away – remember how to combat the burn… The best antidote to heat is either patience, or a dairy product such as milk or yoghurt. Drinking beer is one of the worst things you can do, as the alcohol washes the heat further into your taste buds!

 

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The start of a new year…

Once Christmas is over and we’ve all seen in the New Year, things can feel a bit flat. Thankfully, December and the first week or so of January have been very mild down here in Devon so there are some uplifting and very welcome signs of life on the garden.

As many of you will know, hellebores are one of my favourite flowers. I think they are beautiful in both their range of colour and also in their slightly spiky architectural look. But I love them probably most of all because you can be sure that, even in the darkest, dankest January day, if you have hellebores in your garden, you will have flowers!

In fact, the whole of last autumn was relatively mild and wet. The ground temperature has remained warm and, as we know, plants like plenty of rain, so now they are probably thinking: “Hmm, winter must be over, let’s start to flower.”

Lots of shrubs are sprouting in my garden and I noticed a neighbour’s rhubarb was already sending out new bright pink shoots.

As it’s been so mild, snowdrops and primroses are already making a show – I have heard that in some areas, snowdrops were out before Christmas! Such delicate flowers, they are really beautiful if you stop and take a moment to look at them in detail. A cluster of snowdrops pushing through a mossy bank is a delight to behold.

The primrose is the flower of Devon and, believe me, they really do flourish down here! Because of Devon’s climate, soil and geographical position, the wild primrose can be widely found in woodland and countryside right across the county.

I read recently that, in past centuries, Devon’s old paper mills used to send primrose blooms to customers because the flower was seen – even then – as a symbol of a breath of fresh Devon air.

In a month or so, the banks of our steep Devon lanes will be smothered in primroses, and then I will know that Spring really has arrived.

 

 

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