March has been the super milky month. Ladys calf luna was born on the fifth of on the full moon hence the new age name. We stood outside the cow shelter like kids excitedly peeking at the calf and giggling at her cuteness whilst trying to be quiet and not disturb the new mother and baby.
After a week of the calf taking all the milk we started to milk the cow. We started off only taking a small amount of milk so the calf could have most of it but now a few weeks on we are getting about six litres a day and milking her out to increase production. We have started making butter and cheese and having lots of white sauce potato bakes and putting whey in everything. The evening milk (which is more creamy) is poured in a cream separator which is just a massive kilner jar with a tap. The milk is used for cheese making and the cream is used for butter making. To make butter all the cream is poured into a butter churn which is a another big jar with a handle on top which turns wooden paddles that churn the cream into butter. Sometimes it is quite quick and sometimes it takes 45 minutes. You churn it for ages then there is suddenly a golden lump of butter in there. There is also some buttermilk left over. So you sieve the butter and squish it with the scotch hands (to get all the liquid out)which are wooden paddle things which have grooves on one side. Then you can roll it into a round or squidge it into a brick. The first cheese i made was a simple cottage cheese. This is very easy to make. I used milk that had had the cream separated. I added a few drops of rennet and left the milk in the hay box with a hot water bottle over night. The next day i heated it on the stove until it curdled. This is when the curds (used to make cheese) separate from the whey. The curds look like white lumpy bits that gradually all stick together. When I thought it had separated as much as it was going to I took it off the heat and strained off the whey which is kept for cooking. Traditionally it would be given to pigs to help fatten them up. So then i just added some salt and chopped chives and you have an easy soft cheese.
During the forestry weekend in March we did some more felling in the area we are clearing next to the communual garden and also some tidying up here around our houses. Some trees are a cause for concern if they have a large crack inthe trunk and are right next to someones house for example. Fortunately there was only one casualty…a wheelbarrow. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and will be sorely missed.
In the garden this month we are mostly eating leeks and kale. We have had to buy in potatoes as we had a bad harvest last year. So lots of leeka dn potato soup and leek and potato bake with the occasional rabbit thrown in. We are eating the last of the parsnips now and the purple sprouting broccolli is just starting to come through. Winter purslane is a great wild green to put in salads and it grows in profusion up in the woods around our houses. We also have rocket, chard, spinach, sorrel, parsley to add into salads.
The plum and sloe blossom is starting to come out and is a beautiful welcome into the warmer part of the year. Daffodills and primroses have sprung up all over the woods and the yellow celandine is everywhere too. I have seen the first red campion and the birds seem to be singing their more upbeat spring songs.
Sophia and I have been tidying an abandoned garden which got pretty overgrown as no one has been working in there for a couple of years. Earlier this year we scythed the brambles and nettles and discovered that it is full of fruit bushes. Gooseberries and blackcurrants, also a fig, a kiwi, a mulberry, a japanese wineberry. Sophia has planted willow in there for her basketry and a bed with some salads. We are going to continue rennovating the wild garden when we get the time, but in a way it is nice to have a garden that is a bit mad and does its own thing. It is full of self seeded rhubarb and garlic and comfrey and hazel and oak and some bamboo someone planted and lots of fruit trees.
I have dug some new beds in my garden with the help of the lovely wwoofers as always. This year I am growing some flowers in addition to all the vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions and broad beans) and I am very excited about growing woad to use for dying. Woad is a plant from the brassica family (cabbages) and produces a beautiful blue dye from its leaves. It was thought that the celts used it as a body paint but this now seems unlikely. It does dye cloth though and although it isnt native has been used in this country for thousands of years. I am sure when i harvest it the temptation to paint my self blue and run naked up to the valley to the hillfort will be overwhelming.