Monthly Archives: October 2014

Up to date

Wednesday news posted on Wednesday – up to date at last!

We’ve levelled the plot from the ill-fated “ploughing” attempt, we’ve spread compost, we’ve made pumpkin soup and we’ve had two parties.


One party was to say goodbye to Beth, our office supremo, who is moving on to a job in catering management and the other was a surprise one to celebrate 25 years of marriage for me and Julia. I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve eaten too much cake today!



We’re off for a few days in the Lake District now so no new posts for a few days. See you all later.

Third time lucky

We had a group of Guides on the farm today – spent three hours outside foraging in the hedgerows and garden. Pickings were a bit scant in the hedges but we managed a decent salad from the garden. That is mainly due to my poor weeding so maybe not something I should be boasting about.

The chickweed is really living up to its alternative name of winterweed, though I see there are other plants using the name. Best call it Stellaria media to be on the safe side. It was a mainstay of the mediaeval winter diet when pickings were slim and you can see why when you see how well it grows.



We are also  have a good crop of goosegrass (or sticky weed or cleavers or sweethearts depending on what you call it) though it isn’t great for salads. Too sticky! I’ve never known a plant with so many different names. I don’t know if anyone still calls it ‘sweethearts’ – it was what my mother and grandmother used to call it. They come from Lancashire but I’ve checked up and it also seems to be used in the south and south-west, though it does seem to have been popular as a name before the war.


I call it goosegrass and always have done. What do you call it?

And before you ask – the title of the post refers to the fact we’ve fed three groups on garden weeds now and haven’t poisoned anyone yet. And ‘today’ means Tuesday because I’m getting behind.

Compost and Mondays

It’s always nice when a plan comes together, and for that reason alone this Monday was a good day. I’m not really sure why I’m prejudiced against the day – we tend to work through the weekend anyway so it isn’t as if it’s actually the start of our week. It’s probably a hangover from my school days, when Sunday evening was such a poignant time. It seems like I spent all my Sunday evenings thinking back to our Sunday seaside trip and dreading a return to the village school where the spirit of Wackford Squeers lived on well into the 1960s.

In truth I actually liked some of the schools I went to and didn’t go to the coast too often so I’m really only thinking of an eighteen month period when I was eight-years old, but it seems to have ruined Mondays for me for life. Fortunately it’s just a mild dislike – if I had an irrational fear of Mondays I would have to learn to spell lunaediesophobia just to describe how I felt.

Anyway, back to the real subject. Having access to a large amount of greenery and several cardboard boxes it seemed a good time to dig the bean trench we’d been threatening for two years. There are various sorts of bean trench, ranging from ones filled with good compost to those filled with cardboard and newspaper. The benefit of the first sort are obvious, the benefit of the second sort is that it keeps moisture under the beans. We’ve gone for the third type, also known as a composting trench, where you fill it with waste and let it rot down over winter. The idea is that it will not only rot down to produce compost, but will heat the soil (according to one blog I read). I’m not convinced about the soil heating bit – I think you will need a lot more in the trench to produce heat, but let’s see.


That’s cardboard, cape gooseberry and various garden clippings in the trench. We ended up with a lot more by the time we’d finished and had to stamp it down. Now we just wait and see.

As for the rest of the compost – the three bay pallet bin is nearly full (as you can see from the picture above), the plastic and wooden bins and rotating drums are full and the pigs are producing plenty of raw materials. Despite this I just know that when we come to spreading time we will be disappointed when we see how little it actually covers. There are several rules of composting:

(1) It always contains plastic, no matter how careful you are

(2) It never looks as good as it does on Gardeners’ World

(3) It never goes far enough


You don’t always get what you want

It’s been a week for buying books and I’ve managed to buy some that weren’t quite what I was expecting.That’s the trouble with ordering from Amazon, you don’t always get what you want.

I ordered a book featuring 101 outdoor activities for kids – 101 Outdoor Activities for Kids: Ultimate Collection by T.J. Doherty. When I started to read I found that it wasn’t a book with 101 outdoor activities for kids but more of a book with 101 activities for kids that could be done outdoors. Activity Number One is – playing “Simon Says” – you don’t need to be outdoors to play that.

So although it is a well laid out book and full of good ideas it wasn’t quite the book of fire starting and den building I’d been expecting. But at £1.53 for the Kindle edition it’s still great value for money.

It’s probably proof of  what we’re already thinking – that kids don’t get outside enough. Same with adults: I can’t imagine any of my teachers needing a book on outdoor activities. When I stop and think about it I don’t know why I need it.

Box of matches, baler twine and a penknife. That’s all I need really.

And a risk assessment.

Fire, knives and nooses. What could possibly go wrong?



Worm community hit by hurricane!

Looks like I might have been a bit hasty in my assessment of the hurricane damage. This morning I found the lid of the wormery had blown off. I only check them every few days as they don’t need a lot of looking after. They are in a sheltered place and it didn’t occur to me that anything could have happened, but it looks like a swirling gust had got under the lid.

Fortunately there was a good layer of damp paper on top of them to keep things dark and they don’t seem to have been inconvenienced too much. Things seemed a bit wet so I suspect they have been rained on but I have arranged some more paper to help them dry out. I’ll add some bread crumbs tonight to help them along.

It looks like they have been breeding well as there are hundreds of small worms on the surface. However, I will check this out just to be sure they aren’t something horrible.It would be just my luck to be boasting about the fecundity of my worms just as they were being eaten by parasites. I’ve kept various livestock over the years and worms, though they don’t need daily attention, are still proving hard to get the hang of. No matter what the books tell me about them being easy I just can’t bring myself to believe it.

On the farm the guinea fowl are refusing to cooperate and move back to the vegetable garden. They are well and truly back with the rest of the poultry and refusing to move from the food. Can’t say I blame them. Even with a coat of waterproof feathers the weather is pretty bad at the moment. (Please note that I could have done the foul/fowl weather joke there but I chose not to. I am better than that.)

There is still a bit of jostling going on with the group of guinea fowl that live with the chickens full time but they seem to be settling down. Even when the weather improves I have a feeling that the poultry field will be a regular stop on the farm circuit for the free range group – bugs are fine but you can’t beat a hopper full of grain.


Not a boring day

Now that the remnants of hurricane Gonzalo have passed over we have blue skies again. It’s almost shirt sleeve weather at the moment, though that will pass by tonight I’m told. It’s October so this is a bonus. I usually associate this time of year with mist and drizzle rather than crisp clear days.

We haven’t suffered too badly from the hurricane. Some chairs in the outdoor area were blown over, door mats moved and the doors in the fruit cage blew open.They tend to blow open in anything stronger than a stiff breeze so it’s not surprise. What we’re looking at there is badly fitting doors rather than a high wind. Considering that the fruit cage is built from a polytunnel frame that was donated after it blew down in its original site it has stood up well.

The guinea fowl had disappeared when we arrived to see how they had coped with the storm, but we found them later. They have flown back into the chicken field where there is plenty of shelter and people bring them food every day. Maybe they aren’t as stupid as they look.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between days on the farm and this will be remembered as the day we had to pick the chairs up.

Meanwhile we have polytunnels to clear out and Cape Gooseberry  to cut back. We will be trying to keep the plants for a third year. All the articles talk about them only lasting 3-4 years so we have taken cuttings this year to give us a new group of plants. We are also talking about growing some from seed again, which was how we got the first lot. I’ve also been throwing squashy fruit into the hedgerows in case they seed naturally. It’s worth a try.

They have been good croppers though the size of the berries has dropped off. Not sure if this is due to the weather or the age of the plants. We have been able to eat the berries, give some away and use them to decorate frangipane tarts. If we get a decent crop next year I will try something more ambitious.


This is one ready for the oven – cutting the fruit in half makes it go further and gives a better effect after cooking. When you use whole fruit the frangipane seems to rise to cover them.


The one on the left was made with halved fruit. The one on the right used whole fruit.

Later: I should have kept my thoughts to myself. The weather turned grey and the day will probably be known as the day the pigs got out.

At least it won’t be known as a boring day.

And yes, this might be a good time to admit what some of you with sharp eyes may have noticed – I do use ready made pastry cases. Given the choice between paying 98 pence or wrestling with a sheet of pastry, shrinkage and baking beans it’s not a difficult decision for a lazy man.


A sheep story

Generally I ignore the sheep on the farm. They tend to be quite disdainful about me too.

However, after reading this article I’m looking at them in a different way. It’s quite clear this is too bizarre to be a random event and nobody would dump this on purpose so all I can suggest is that the sheep arranged it.

Good luck to them. A sheep’s life is mainly about wet wool and foot rot so if they can do anything to make it more fun I’m all for it.

On a more serious note, fly tipping is a growing problem in the countryside and the RSPCA treats 7,000 animals a year after they are injured by litter.As if that isn’t enough we add to the burden by releasing balloons and sky lanterns.  The sheep were lucky to find the bags full of recreational drugs: it could have been a lot worse.

Another Monday morning

Had an email last night telling me there was a meeting on the farm at 9.30.

Arrived to find that the meeting had been changed to 4.30.

Just one more reason that Mondays should be banned. And another nail in the coffin of regular Monday meetings.

Personally I don’t need to sit round a table to “communicate”. I can use email, phones, text or shouting if I want to exchange information. I know shouting has fallen out of fashion as a management technique in recent years but it’s hard to beat if you want to make a point. Eventually I suppose it will go the way of hanging and flogging…

The only reason I can see for meetings is if you are getting together to arrange to actually do something. This is a rare thing.

Meetings are useful if you want to catch someone off guard and assassinate them but this is even rarer than meetings that make things happen. It pretty much went out of fashion with the Borgias. I’ve not seen any mention of arsenic in recent management texts, though I have read a book on the management style of Attila the Hun.


You’ll eventually find that paperwork is a recurring theme with me. Or, to be more precise, my ineptitude with paperwork is a recurring theme.

We made quite a lot of chutney at the end of summer and put it to one side to mature. Now it needs labels. And there is the problem. Somewhere over the last six weeks the collection of paper scraps and diary notes that represent my recipe collection have been scrambled. I have all the information I need to do the ingredients lists for the eight different sorts of chutney, but not all in the same place. It’s a bit of an Eric Morecambe situation – I have all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

Fortunately I know that the “x2 mustard, 30g fresh ginger, 2 red chillies no seeds 100g honey instead of sugar” scribbled in the last week of August relates to the extra hot piccalilli and needs adding to the printout that contains the standard piccalilli recipe.

Two down, six to go.


A plateful of weeds

When you think of salad you probably think of lettuce, or possibly rocket. If you think of chickweed or fat hen you’re in a minority, and you probably don’t need to read this. Fat hen, incidentally, contains twice as much iron as spinach, so eating weeds does have something to offer nutritionally.

In an hour or two I’m going to be taking a party of Rainbows round the garden to see what we can find to eat. We have a good crop of chickweed growing in a newly-composted raised bed and plenty of mallow. There is definitely some fat hen round by the edge and we have plenty of marigold and nasturtium flowers. We also have dead nettle , borage and dandelion so without resorting to anything from the herb garden we can provide a plate of colourful salad, though I will add some chive flowers for the onion flavour.

We have some nice tender nettles coming through, but although they are edible they are not recommended in salads. I will pause for a moment while you think about it…


It seems we need a permission form signing if we want to feed garden weeds to children, though we didn’t need special permission last week. It’s something to look into, and worth remembering that educating overly-cautious adults is also part of our job.

Strangely, when the foraged food is made into jam and spread on warm scones you don’t need special permission. I suppose it’s a case of familiarity seeming safer than the unknown. And sugar being more palatable than salad.)