News from the Farm

There isn’t a lot of news. It has been quite dry the last few days but bitterly cold.

Yesterday we had a clear blue sky so Fizz and I went off to count the sheep. They were in the top field and the wind was whipping across that field. I had to retreat, I was almost crying it was so cold.

It’s been cold, that’s what I am trying to tell you πŸ™‚

So.. Fizz and I went down Badger Alley to look for plant life, it is quite sheltered there.

Badger AlleyPrimroses would have been nice.

PrimrosesPrimroses will be nice but just not yet.

PrimrosesThis is just the way that it is this year, it is cold. The Primroses were in flower here and I was photographing them on the third of February last year and the Red Dead-nettle. We are running a little late this year because of the crisp winter days but I probably prefer this to the rain.

No I don’t, I am just not big on winter, whatever it is like πŸ™‚

One reason for going up there was to find Wood Spurge. When I wrote about it the other day I didn’t have pictures of the milky irritant sap and they should be quite easy to get.

Wood SpurgeI found the Spurge easily enough but I couldn’t get much sap out of it, I maybe need to try this on a warmer day. This will have to do for now.

Wood SpurgeOh yes, and we looked at the catkins again.

Just for the record here is a photograph taken yesterday on the farm. This is what a Hazel tree’s man bits look like when it is bitterly cold. (Poor thing)

Hazel CatkinsIt is much more sheltered down here and they are beginning to open.

Hazel Catkins

Hazel CatkinsThe most interesting thing that we found was signs that the Badgers were getting active.

Nature Detective DogNature Detective Dog at work.

Nature Detective DogBadgers don’t hibernate but they usually spend December and January underground, living off their fat, all cuddled up together, warm and cosy.

We saw quite a lot of fresh snuffle holes and evidence of straw gathering and some fresh digging.

Badger SettSo if these babies are active then maybe it is time to go and look for our own Badgers.

This is the main sett. It isn’t the best place to try and film Badgers, it is on public land and it is quite confined. I would prefer to film the Badgers on the farm.

Patch was beaten up and kicked out of this sett last year because he wanted to have a go at making baby Badgers. He was joined by two other Badgers and I am hoping that at least one of those was female and that we will have cubs on the farm.

But I don’t know where they are!

Come on Puppy, let’s go Badger hunting.

FizzHave I mentioned that it is cold on the farm? At least the mud is clean πŸ™‚

Cold FizzThe hedges have all been trimmed. It is a job done by machine and it looks pretty brutal but the wounds will heal quickly in the spring.

Hedge trimmingThis hedgerow is a good mix of Hazel, Willow, Holly, Blackthorn and Hawthorn. It is not particularly unique but I am concerned for the Elm trees as I survey the wreckage.

It is necessary work to protect the sheep who were getting caught up in the brambles.

SheepStop following me!

Sheep

Fizz and I searched all around the hedgerow looking for signs of Badger activity. There are three setts on the farm that they used last year, the first two were obviously empty.

The third one is a possibility, can you see what I see.

Badger SettWhy is this broken grass outside of the entrance? Because Badgers collect straw for bedding? It is a possibility.

It’s okay, I am a Big Game Hunter, I’m supposed to see these things.

Broken GrassCome on Puppy.

strawSo we went off and found a nice patch of dried grass, gathered some up and put it outside of the sett.

strawI am Β not nuts, I have done this before πŸ™‚


I have left the camera watching the sett. I would be so pleased to find them here. Badger cubs are born in February (they won’t come out of the sett until May) wherever the Badgers are now, that is probably where any cubs will be born. Be here.

Now I suppose that you would like to play ball?

Fizz

FizzGood Girl!

FizzMight as well look for fleas while I’m here.

Fizz

!!!

Fizz would like everyone to know that she hasn’t got fleas.FizzToday’s flower is Elder because there is an association with Badger Setts and Elder, The Badgers like the berries and you will often find it growing around old setts.

OH! I nearly forgot to tell you that the Elm trees were all right, the maniac hedge trimmer didn’t go up that far πŸ™‚

Elm Trees

Sambucus nigra, The Elder Tree

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)Sambucus nigra, the European Elder also known as the Black Elder or Elderberry. This small tree is as well known for it’s purple/black fruit as for it’s froth of white flowers.

Elder fruit (Sambucus nigra)It is one of the first trees to come into leaf with new leaves appearing in early March.

Elder leaf (Sambucus nigra)The leaves are made up of five and sometimes seven leaflets on a central stem, with opposite pairs and one at the tip of the stem. The leaflets are longer than they are wide and have a toothed edge.

Elder leaf (Sambucus nigra)

Elder leaf (Sambucus nigra)This next picture is of one leaf, comprising and showing the arrangement of five leaflets. That is important to understand because a single leaflet or leaf, that is this shape would not indicate an Elder, each leaf is composed of five leaflets, sometimes seven and rarely nine.

Elder leaf (Sambucus nigra)

Elder leaf (Sambucus nigra)The woody stem of Elder is also quite distinctive.

A fresh stem is usually covered in small pale warts, these are called lenticels. They are sometimes described as breathing pores and allow the tree to exchange gasses.

Elder stem (Sambucus nigra)You will pretty much always see some branches marked with these distinctive lenticels on a live Elder.

Elder stem (Sambucus nigra)

Elder stem (Sambucus nigra)Older bark becomes furrowed and the breathing pores are not noticeable then.

Elder stem (Sambucus nigra)

Elder (Sambucus nigra)The Elder is a short lived tree, not more than about 60 years. It is also quite small and shrub like. I have read that it can attain a height of twenty feet or more but it is usually smaller than that.

Legend has it that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an Elder tree. I think that this is unlikely, for hanging you really need a tree that is taller than you with sturdy horizontal branches, like an Oak or a Chestnut. It is more likely that this defamation by association is the work of the Christian Church in the battle against Paganism because the Elder once held great spiritual importance.

You wouldn’t have much luck, hanging yourself in one of these.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)However the association stuck and the small jelly fungus that grows on the Elder became known as Judas’s Ear and later just Jew’s Ear.

Jelly Ear FungusΒ Jelly Ear FungusΒ  Β Jelly Ear FungusΒ  Β Jelly Ear FungusΒ It is now more often referred to as Jelly Ear or Wood Ear,Β Auricularia auricula-judae.

Jelly Ear FungusThe flowers arrive in May.

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)A flower head may consist of several hundred small flowers. The flowers are hermaphrodite. Each flower has five white petals, five stamens tipped with yellow anthers and a style with three stigmas.

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)

Elder flowers (Sambucus nigra)The flowers produce nectar and pollen and are much loved by Bumble Bees.

White-tailed BumblebeeΒ White-tailed BumblebeeΒ  Β White-tailed BumblebeeΒ  Β White-tailed BumblebeeΒ Β Too much sometimes….. (It is not dead, just too drunk to stand up)

White-tailed BumblebeeThe fruit ripens in August.

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)When it is ripe the birds eat it.

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)The Elder is a valuable wildlife plant. It provides shelter for birds and forage for deer. Many small mammals (including Dormice) eat both the flowers and the fruit. It is a larval food plant for several British moths including the White Spotted Pug, Swallowtail, Dot Moth and Buff Ermine. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for many insects and birds also eat the fruit.

Despite it’s reputation for Elderflower tea and fritters and Elderberry wine all of the green parts and the fruit are mildly poisonous to us. The fruit needs to be cooked before eating.

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)This tree is a member of the same family as the diminutive, green wildflower, Town Hall Clock (TheΒ Adoxaceae)

Town Hall Clock

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)Taxonomy

Kingdom: Plantae

Order:Β Dipsacales

Family:Β Adoxaceae

Genus:Β Sambucus

Species:Β Sambucus Nigra

Elderberry fruit (Sambucus nigra)Wildflowers in winter.

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44 thoughts on “News from the Farm”

  1. Sambuca (White, Red or Black) Sambuca is flavoured with essential oils obtained from anise, star anise, liquorice and other spices. It also contains elderflowers.[1] The oils are added to pure alcohol, a concentrated solution of sugar, and other flavouring. It is commonly bottled at 42% alcohol by volume.

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      1. No,the Blue is usually called Black Sambuca and it taste a lot like a sweetish Ouzo with an extra flavour. If it didn’t cost me a weeks wages in postage I’d make you a bottle and send it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. So many wonderful images. That one jelly ear fungus looks like a Muppet.

    Roads workers use those maniac machines here in Ontario- maybe three years now they’ve been in use. The wreckage is brutal. It’s quick and effective, but “ugly on the eye.”

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    1. Thanks Maggie πŸ™‚ Ugly indeed. Here land owners are required to maintain hedges that abut public highways, they cut them in the late summer when the birds have finished nesting but these internal hedges have been cut at the wrong time. We will miss a lot of blossom this year and fruit as well. Pesky Sheep.

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  3. Machine hedge trimming is done here too. We often get punctures in our tyres afterwards because the mess is never cleared up properly. You have to be careful with those Elder trees because of the boggarts that live in them. Don’t forget to ask permission before you cut anything off an Elder or woe betide you!

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    1. Thank you Sarasin πŸ™‚ I was only looking and at least now we know that she hasn’t got fleas. Well, she could have caught them off me, we spend a lot of time together. Honestly I don’t know why she is so sensitive πŸ™‚

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  4. Fun and interesting post and I really enjoyed the badger video. For me it is always nice to see something that is there all the time but for one reason or another we just never get to see it. As I write this it is 9F (-13C) where I live. Have you had any cold weather lately?

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    1. Thank you David πŸ™‚ It doesn’t really get cold in the UK. I am really surprised it is that cold in Missouri, you are quite a bit south of us. I love the Badgers but I have just picked up the card and we didn’t see any last night. It is maybe still too cold for them.

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  5. So much dense information in your post – especially when you say ‘not a lot of news.’ Ha! Do you mind if I ask what kind of camera you’re using? I’m looking to buy one and I like the quality of your photos here. Also liked the story about the jelly fungus and Judas, that was interesting. Cheers, – Bill

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    1. Thanks Bill πŸ™‚ My camera is a Panasonic FZ200. It is a very good bridge camera. Over here they cost about Β£300, it is a very versatile camera (Macro to 24x optical all at f. 2.8) and for a bridge it handles low light better than any other camera that I have seen or used. I would prefer a DSLR with a good macro lens but it comes down to cost. A lot of people seem to buy DSLR without knowing how to use it and get pretty poor results, a camera like the FZ200 is a good one to learn with, you can point and shoot but you also get a lot of control if you want it. I have been using cameras like this for about fifteen years and reckon that I could make a DSLR sing for me. It just comes down to how much you know and how much money you have got and how much you want to put into photography. The FZ200 is a very smart camera. Good luck πŸ™‚

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      1. Wonderful information and so kind of you to elaborate friend! Thanks so much. We’re planning a year abroad and want to invest in a good camera (and we’re not photographers like you!) . Cheers and looking forward to more of your posts. Out here in the Seattle area we have some stuff in bloom here and there already (!) and I’m planning to prune the rose bushes tomorrow. Best, Bill

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  6. This has been another learning experience!! The Judas ear fungus, all the info on the elderberry and the badger. Oh, I hope we get to see cubs, come May.
    And I am glad dear Fizz is without fleas. I’m for flea free pets. : )
    I believe the sheep think you are their treasure.

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    1. Thank you Ettel πŸ™‚ I will certainly try to get Badger Cubs this year. It would be really nice to have them on the farm and I should be able to find them long before May. They will start getting very active soon and making lots of mess. There is usually a big pile of freshly dug earth right outside of the sett they are using. Badgers are just not very good at hiding πŸ™‚

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      1. From what I have learned about badgers they do not care that they are seen. They defend their territory with all their strength. Are UK badgers of the same vigor, or are they prone to be a gentle breed?? I know there are about 8 different kinds, and I watched a video of a honey badger in Africa fighting off three lions. That takes a lot of hutspaugh. (I think I may have made up a word.)

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  7. I must tell you that seeing that bumblebee on his back was so adorable. Happy pollen collector…a bee who loves his work:) If they have a contest for muddy dog of the year…enter Fizz immediately. She’s so funny and has no “dainty paw,” syndrome, that’s for sure. The flowers are so lovely. There are 21 inches of snow outside right now, so believe me when I say we don’t have a single to look at leaf at the moment. It was way below zero last night and right now it’s 16 degrees. It might be 30 tomorrow so maybe things will start melting before the snow that’s expected on Sunday. Sigh. Is it spring yet?

    Another wonderful post. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you Gigi πŸ™‚ I am very behind in answering my comments. It is Monday now and the weather has changed dramatically, it is beautifully warm and still. It is actually quite hot and the last two days I have had to take my coat off while walking. Thank you for the lovely comments.

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  8. Those ears are creepy. But the sheep are adorable!! They made me sing the shaun the sheep song. and Fizz is even more adorable! I wish I could be her friend! How is the troll-spotting going on? Yesterday I was told that since I am the only person in the world who has seen a troll, they can’t be real! As if my testimony was not enough!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you Trini πŸ™‚ You are one of Fizz’s best friends πŸ˜€ She has been having a lot of trouble with those adorable Sheep today, she tried to organize a party on FB and it got crashed by thirty sheep who ate all the sandwiches. She has learned not to announce parties on social media.

      We haven’t seen any Trolls yet, well, we haven’t got a Troll on camera yet. I am sure it is only a matter of time. I have no problem with your testimony and soon we shall show the world πŸ™‚

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  9. Colin, what is the fern in the first photo, lower right corner? Maybe you could do a fern post this spring.
    I am not fond of the mechanical trimmers, although I know it is not practical to trim by hand, but they make such a mess of it and the open wounds do not heal well, nor close up as a proper trim would do. Perfect for fungal disease.
    But at least the sheep are all set – darn, they are almost as cute as Fizz.
    I hope there are badger babies on the farm this year, that would be something to see!

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    1. Thank you Eliza πŸ™‚ The fern in that picture is Hart’s-tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium).

      Hart's-tongue

      Along with Bramble and Ivy, ferns provide most of our winter greenery. We also have Broad Buckler and Shield Ferns along that track.The ferns are more or less evergreen but at this time of year they are often in quite poor condition and will look much better in the spring.

      It is a good idea for a post. I have kind of been avoiding them because they are a big subject in themselves and I am trying to focus on the wildflowers but I should include them in my walks. They are quite a feature of the winter. Thank you for the comment πŸ™‚

      Hart's-tongue

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  10. The poor maligned Elder. Thanks for explaining the name of the fungus, I had been wondering for a while, but hadn’t bothered to look it up! I hope Patch has had a productive winter and that you are able to catch up with him. Fizz would make a very cozy home for some fleas in this bitter weather πŸ˜‰

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    1. Thank you RR πŸ™‚ I think fleas prefer a nice warm indoor dog, preferably with a cat companion because if the dog is the house then the cat is the car and they do like to go out for a spin and meet other fleas. Fizz is a farm dog who spends most of her life outdoors, sloshing around in the mud. Not very cosy for a flea.

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  11. Another truly interesting and informative stroll on what was apparently a rather brisk day for your part of the world. I loved your Badger film, and the fact that you snuck another little green flower into the post just before it ended. Since we also have Elderberry Wine in these parts, would it be the same Elder tree here in North America. I know our forefathers brought all kinds of plants with them when they first came here, so I was wondering if it was the European Elder that was found here, or would it be another type of Elder.

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    1. Thank you David πŸ™‚ Another very good question. Yes you do have Sambucus nigra, the European Elder in North America. Kind of πŸ™‚ Sambucus nigra isn’t a single species, it is what is known as a species complex.

      To quote Wikipedia, “The black-berried elder complex is variously treated as a single species Sambucus nigra found in the warmer parts of Europe and North America with several regional varieties or subspecies.”

      As I read it the taxonomists are saying that they haven’t clearly defined the different subspecies and so they are lumping them all together as a single species for now but they probably will divide the species at a later date.

      There is another subspecies of Sambucus nigra that you have in North America called Sambucus canadensis, The American Elder and that one has blue berries.

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    1. Thank you Barb πŸ™‚ Which part of the Elder? To be honest, because I only see it as a part of the hedgerow, I am outdoors and there are so many other plants about, Elder has never struck me as strongly scented. The flowers smell quite sweet when they are new but that fades as they get older and I have heard old flowers described as smelling of pee but then, have you ever emptied a vase of roses? Most flowers smell of pee when they are old.

      The leaves on the other hand are a bit more interesting. They do have a pungent smell when they are bruised. This is supposed to be a defence against insects and there is a tradition of using bruised leaves as an insect repellent. Either rubbing the leaves onto your skin or wearing them about your person. Keeping them under your hat was an old favourite and I am sure that I have read of a tradition of tying them to a horses mane to keep flies away from the rider.

      That might seem like a bit of nonsense but there were places last summer that were virtually no go areas for Fizz and myself because of the amount of flies, especially Horse Flies and I can easily believe that people did resort to these natural defences in the past.

      I don’t like to use insect repellent because I spend most of my time trying to get close to insects πŸ™‚

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      1. Sorry Barb, It may well be to do with varieties. There are quite a few different garden varieties that I don’t know anything about and I suppose some of them smell sweet and some look pretty, that is the way of gardening.

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