Nature Notes - October
The eighth month of the Roman calendar: Hyfred, the month of Autumn; An Damhair the month of deer rutting and the month of the Winter Moon: Wintiffyllith. We are told that October always has twenty one fine days and that if the moon on the first comes without frost then we can expect no frost until the November full moon! The 4th is St Francis’s Day when swallows are considered to depart for warmer climes. If on the 5th Oak Apples are seen to contain spiders then we are in for a naughty year, at least from a weather perspective! St Denis’s Day falls on the 9th and we should be setting our pigs out on to the acorns, however, they will have a stark time this year as there are practically no acorns to be seen. This seems to be a repeat of 2008 when acorns were also scarce. The most popular explanations seem to be that heavy rain early in the year simply washed the pollen away. Any other ideas out there: please let us know! We are reminded to check our cider apple store for undue sweating and that we should commence our cider making on the 27th. This is the month to start gathering sloes with a view to sloe gin in a year or three if you can be that patient. My trusty foraging book tells me that Brooklime, Common Chickweed, Common Sorrel and the roots of dandelions are now firmly in season as are the hips of the Dog Rose, the berries of Elder and Hawthorn and the roots of Sweet Cicely. Some of us have been fortunate to see and hear geese flying over Croxley in the last week or so are they head for the evening graze. It is thought that the noise they make is the origin of the western counties Wish Hounds, i.e. the Devil and his hunting pack out for lost souls. However, this idea does not seem to appear in this County due either to, I guess, to a lack of geese or a lack of strong cider! A walk around the fields surrounding Croxley Green gives a very good indication of what can happen on the farm at this time of year. Within a short walk we can see a ploughed field, a field with stubble standing and new growth coming through in another. The hedges are a picture with hips and berries and of course we are now seeing the leaves on our trees start to turn colour and fall. I never cease to be amazed by the number of shades of red, browns, orange, yellow and the sheer beauty whether it be a frosty morning or a gloriously sunny day. This is the time for church Harvest Festival and giving thanks for the abundance of food that we are fortunate to enjoy. Modern harvest festivals are the creation of that great Victorian parson R S Hawker who had the living of the church at Morwenstow, Cornwall for so many years. An outstanding eccentric he is a great “hero” of mine. The 21st is the feast of St Ursula and her eleven thousand virgins but for reasons that one can only guess, it seems to have gone out of fashion! Local shepherds will be thinking about putting the Tup in and then looking forward to lambing next year. I notice that my garden and the hedgerows are alive with birds all greedily helping themselves to the abundance of free food. Let us not forget that we can help the birds by putting out nuts, seeds and fat in our gardens. The end of October brings us to Halloween or All Hallows E’en that is assuredly not an “American invention” as I hear it described recently! Bonfires should be lit on hilltops and on absolutely no account should the household fire be allowed to go out (or the central heating turned off?). This is the night of the dead when the departed re-visit the Earth and witches and evil spirits wield their greatest power. The Fairy Court rides out a midnight and then and only then can those kidnapped by the fairy folk by saved by their lovers.