Five for Friday – the spring edition

Five photos from the farm this week.
Around the fields, the first froth of white blossom is filling the hedges. In the garden the cherry plum tree just beats the blackthorn, but on the farm the blackthorn bushes are always the first to flower followed by the hawthorn.
blackthorn hedge
Blackthorn blossom forming
We have lots of sloe bearing blackthorn bushes growing in the hedges around the farm, which isn’t surprising as we live on Blackley Lane and the name of our farm is thought to derive from the Old English for “enclosure of the sloe (tree) hill”. We plant new hedges most years somewhere on the farm and always include plenty of blackthorn, especially as Beth needs a ready supply of sloes to make her Slamseys Sloe Gin. The photo in the header is the hedge that was planted three years ago to form the boundary for part of the Slamseys Drinks fruit field.

blackthorn flowers
Blackthorn Flowers

Through the winter, the blackthorn bushes cut a dark silhouette with their tough, black branches tipped with long sharp thorns and then in spring, before the leaves appear, tiny white buds form that burst into blossom.

Once the blackthorn flowers have been pollinated by insects, they’ll develop into tiny round green fruits known as sloes. Through summer the sloes grow bigger, gradually turning purple, then develop a blue bloom and finally as the cold winter sets in, they turn a glossy black colour and are ready for picking. These sloes are incredibly astringent, but make a fine liqueur when steeped in gin.

According to Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, “a handful of the flowers infused, is an easy purge; and, if taken in wine and water, is excellent to dispel windy colic.” I’ve read that you can make an almond flavoured syrup by immersing enormous amounts of flowers into a sugar and water solution but I shall give this a miss because (a) I don’t need an almond flavoured syrup (b) it will take forever to pick the flowers and (c) I don’t need purging (easy or otherwise).

crystallised violets, polyanthus and blackthorn flowers
Crystallised Flowers from the fields and garden

I also read that the flowers can be crystallised but I found them too fragile. Can you see the stalk with one petal and some stamens? (It’s halfway down on the right).  That’s all that’s left of the blackthorn flower. The book suggested that the crystallised blackthorn flowers could be used to decorate a cake for a spring wedding. Quite frankly, it would be madness to consider that plan for longer than a second.

my favourite duck
My favourite duck off on an adventure.

Known as The Brown Duck because I’m not very good at naming things. Following a request for some ducklings, on Sunday I handed over a dozen duck eggs to hatch in an incubator as none of my ducks or hens were broody. Typically, by Wedneday morning one of my ducks had decided to sit on a nest of eggs. However, the eggs in the incubator stand more chance of hatching as this duck sits every year with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I think she just does it to keep away from the drakes for a month and I can’t say I blame her.

newly planted Christmas trees at Slamseys Farm
Row upon row of newly planted Christmas trees.

These Nordman Fir trees are only about 30 centimetres tall so they have a fair bit of growing to do before they’re cut down to sell as Christmas trees, probably in 2022, if they aren’t eaten by rabbits or muntjac deer, die from disease or grow a funny shape.
I do love this time of year. So much promise of things to come.