It’s mid-December and yet I’m harvesting apples, pears, plums, strawberries and, most surprising of all, lemons and peaches. No, climate change has not swapped our Welsh winter for a Mediterranean summer. These are the fruits of my addiction to Farm Town. Not content with my plot in the corner of Ceredigion, I bought myself a slice of online real estate courtesy of Facebook. Virtual mud is never waterlogged, frozen or jam packed with rocks. The same could not be said for the very real mud in which our new orchard – 6 apple, 1 pear, 2 plum and 1 damson trees - and soft fruit patch – 31 raspberry, 6 blueberry, 2 blackberry, 2 loganberry, 6 red currant, 2 black currant and 4 gooseberry plants - had to be planted.
All that effort and it looks more like a stick farm! But they’re specially selected sticks, not any old sticks. Plants have to be hardy to survive on our exposed site, so we bought all of the plants from Welsh nurseries. We’re especially excited about the trees as each is an historical Welsh variety – the damson is a graft from a 200 year old tree growing at the Bangor University college farm site (where Dave used to potter around as an agriculture student); the Denbigh plum is a variety that dates back to 1785 and is the only surviving native Welsh plum; the Welsh Cox grew in the garden of Bangor’s first motorised milk lady and the original parent tree is now buried under the A55.
But none of that impresses Charlie, who considers the entire plot to be one big cat latrine.
The planting is not the end of the story. If the raspberries, blackberries and loganberries are to do their thing next year, each needs to be trained up and along a set of tension wires. Tension wires need fence posts. Fence posts need to be buried deeply. Deep burial needs deep soil. We have bed rock at a depth of 9 inches. Tonight we watched with envy as Countryfile demonstrated a lovely bit of tractor kit with which we could smash a post through the bedrock at the flick of a switch. If we had one of those we could have all the posts up and still have time for a spot of painting before the mid-morning coffee and gingernut break. Instead we had wheezy Dave and puny Phil knocking in posts the old fashioned way with a metal spike, the trusty postknockeriner and a hammer. The highlights for me were discovering that pinging tension wires makes a sound like a light-sabre (cue bad re-enacting of scenes from Star Wars) and waving at the Chinook helicopter as it did a fly past (cue bad re-enacting of scenes from The Railway Children, but without the trains).
Mean while on Kittenwatch, Stephen & Nessa took their first steps outdoors this week, ate their first blades of grass, climbed their first tree and stalked their first birds. And yet neither of them can use any one of the 3 cat flaps leading from hallway to utility room, utility room to boiler room, and finally from boiler room to the outside world. Unless a flap is propped open with a pencil or held open by a piece of string tied to the door handle, Stephen is baffled and Nessa is confused, and watching Charlie flip-flap in and out a hundred times a day still leaves them none the wiser. Maybe they’re special needs kittens.