Monthly Archives: December 2014

Buzzards in the snow

Another trip to Peterborough and not a kite to be seen. There was only one kestrel and that was hunched on a lamp post by the side of the A52 pretending to be a buzzard.

I did manage to get three good views of buzzards.They were all pale forms and they were all puffed up against the cold. It must be a miserable existence being a bird in winter. One of the sightings was unusual because the bird was perching in a tree by the side of a flyover. As I drove past I actually had the strange experience of looking down on a perching buzzard – even if I was only looking down on it by a matter of inches.

It was a good day for magpies, hopping around on ground that was conveniently coloured black and white by melting snow.

Back at home I went through the back of a bird watching magazine, the section where they list all the rarities. Last month we went past a pond and saw a white heron-sized bird. Great white egret, I decided, though it’s nice to confirm there has been one about. I couldn’t see any news of one on the internet but the magazine report shows there were some sightings in Derbyshire, which will do for me. It also shows there were ring-necked parakeets seen in West Bridgford and Aspley, though we haven’t seen any recently.

Glad to say we’ll be starting back in a few days as I want to start getting things ready for the bird watch and the porridge day, and get my Christmas present into action. Yes, it will be all action once we get back…

Kites, ospreys and six degrees of separation

We went to visit family at the weekend as part of the build-up to Christmas but managed to work in a bird watching exercise to tune us up for the Big Farmland Bird Count . We’ve spotted quite a few kites over the years as we visit family in Peterborough, and we generally see one or two around the Stamford stretch of the A1.

We saw seven kestrels, a buzzard and three kites. We could have done with a few more buzzards but as I said to Julia, this just shows how things change. When I was a kid it was a rare treat to see a buzzard and involved travelling a long way to see buzzards and all the way to Wales to even have a chance of seeing a kite. Of course, when you click the link and see there are now 700 kites to see in the area, it’s a bit deflating to think you only saw three.

After that we spent several days being ill with the latest bug going round. This is consequently our worse planned Christmas ever. I went out to buy the main stuff on a shopping trip a couple of days ago but didn’t quite get it finished because I started running out of steam (and because I ran out of space in the small-sized shopping trolley I had selected).

Next day I took a quick run down to Lidl to buy the bits I’d missed.

Now, I don’t want to subject you to a blog on my shopping habits because they aren’t very interesting, even to me, but there is one point of interest. For just under £25 I bought a serviceable-looking telescope, so it looks like bird watching in 2015 just took on a new dimension.

I’m resigned to the fact it won’t have top-quality optics but I suspect it will be better than our current telescope, purchased in the 1970s to watch a squacco heron at Eyebrook Reservoir. That brings back memories…


Sorry, when I woke up this morning I realised there was a distinct lack of Osprey in the post,. On looking again I also see no mention of the six degrees. I have excuses, of course, including three different versions of A Christmas Carol to watch.

I never did see an osprey when I was young, I had to wait until the kids started bird watching and I was able to engineer a holiday in Scotland.

However, having started looking up ospreys I found a link to a blog called Ken’s Diary. It’s about the Ospreys at Rutland Water. It also contains mention of Orton Longueville School, where he used to teach and where he recently went to talk about Ospreys.

That is the magic of the internet, you start by looking for ospreys and end up meeting your old history teacher.

Time goes by…

We had another party yesterday, but by the time I’d got it on the table there was no time for photos so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I did get a couple of photos of the meal but by the time I sat down several of the guests were off getting seconds so it just looked like a couple of sparsely attended tables with dirty plates.

On the positive side, the plates were empty (well, mostly) so it can’t have been too bad. There was also enough left for my tea tonight too – red cabbage with apple and cranberries, parsnips with honey and mustard and squash with garlic. Two out of three had improved with age. I’ve never quite got the hang of adding taste to squash so let’s call that a work in progress.

I have had some success with a brown sugar glaze, but sugar glazed squash and honey glazed parsnips seemed a bit similar.

The sausages were good, probably the best batch we’ve ever had, which brings us round to Friday…

We had eight piglets this morning. There’s a small problem regarding my ability to upload photographs but once I get it fixed you will have a photo. Mother and babies are doing well – they are all feeding well and she is lying there grunting in a relaxed manner.

Saturday. Here, as promised, are the photographs.



Party, party!

It’s 3pm, the clutter is cleared, the games are over and Elvis is singing about a Blue Christmas. That’s the first party over – buffet for eighteen for the group plus carers and four generations of the Rose family. Tomorrow it’s staff and various people who have helped us during the year – sausage and mash for eighteen. This, I suppose, is the start of the countdown to Christmas.

We’ve cooked for forty and fifty before, which stretches the kitchen capacity and calls for an ingenious use of space and tables to fit everyone in. Eighteen, in comparison, is just a walk in the park – just scale up a normal meal and chuck a few tables up in a line. We used paper plates. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad in ecological terms – it’s a waste of paper but it saves on hot water for washing up. However, it’s a lot easier to chuck paper plates away than it is to get stuck with the washing up.


Father Christmas came to call and was a lot more cheerful than the grumpy Santa they had on Saturday. He also seems to have put his arm round a lot more ladies than the Saturday Santa. Maybe he’s on to something…

Another day, another title

I’m struggling to think up new titles for my posts. Half of me wants to become a bit tabloid (“Great tits on the table today!” is so tempting when discussing the presence of Parus Major at the bird table.) The other half of me wants to take the easy way out with a dull title such as “Tuesday”.

The problem is that I don’t think the tabloid approach helps build a quality image, and the other approach just leads to a confusing number of posts named after days of the week.

We had a group from a MENCAP gardening group. They were out our way to collect horse manure and had arranged to drop in. We had a chat and home made mince pies, sold them a hamper and a couple of penguin tree decorations and invited them back next year for National Breakfast week.

We’re planning on having a few groups out for breakfast next year, raising some cash for Mary’s Meals and raising awareness of how important breakfast is. It’s a continuation of the work we’ve been doing on breakfasts , and a continuation of the National Porridge Day work we started last year.

The Bread Group raised £26 for Mary’s Meals last week when they did their Christmas meal, which was kind of them (as was the food they left in the fridge for me). Hopefully we will be adding to this next month, particularly as we will have the Saturday morning cafe participating for the first time.

Jobs for the Day

1) Check electricity meter readings

2) Feed Polish chickens

3) Make beadwork Christmas wreaths for keyrings

4) Make mince pies for visitors tomorrow

5) Answer interminable boring emails

6) Make lots of cups of tea (important job!)

7) Clean bird feeders and set up new seed feeder

8) Communal reading of Farmers’ Weekly

9) Set up skittle alley in barn

10) Referee cut throat game of Noughts and Crosses

11) Plan menus for meals on Wednesday and Thursday

12) Arrange for pick up of chicken that Johno is donating to one of the group

And that’s just for starters – there’s always plenty more to do. My next job, however, is making sandwiches for lunch…

Looking back

It was a crisp December day today, which was good because a wet, grey day would have taken a lot of the fun out of it. We had a change of gear today with the Christmas Event and though Santa and Elf worked in harmony we still managed to scare two children. I tried to  make one happier about the situation by taking my wig and beard off to show him there was just a normal man underneath it all but this just made things worse.

Either I have a face that scares children or, as Tim put it: “To him it just looks like you peeled your face off.”

Sometimes you just can’t win. On the other hand when you examine the picture there is definitely a touch of Dan Aykroyd and Trading Places in my eyes,

What was particularly good about the day was that we saw quite a few new people and were able to talk about the farm. That’s always good because, as we found at the conference last year, when you talk to other people you realise what progress you have made. To be honest, although I’m there most days it’s a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. This is ironic when you see what I do when I look out of the window (i’ll post a picture tomorrow).

Hopefully some of those people will be reading this, so it might be a good time to apologise for talking too much, or for discussing care farming whilst dressed as Santa.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


We made the penguins from beads – only sold one but thought they were worth a picture anyway,


We’ve always done a bit of bird watching on the farm, partly because we have birds to watch and partly because it allows me to sit and relax. It also teaches a number of important skills such as concentration, being quiet and sitting still. When you have learning difficulties you can be given to twitchiness and talking continually so it’s useful to have an activity which rewards efforts to control the condition.

One of the things we’have been watching recently has been a kestrel hovering over the field where the new woodland has been planted. I say “new woodland” but at the moment it’s sticks and tussocky grass, which is good hunting ground for kestrels. Sometimes the bird hovers in the area around the recently erected Neighbours statue and once or twice people have told me they saw it perching on the head.

I have been trying to get a shot of it but I’ve never had my camera with me at the right time and I’ve never actually seen it perching on the head. It all changed today when I managed to spot it perching while I had my camera in my hand.


Tim found some pellets in the hood of the male figure when he was putting the Christmas lights on the statues so it looks like we’ve inadvertently erected a kestrel habitat.

Skittles and paperchains

One of the things about working on a care farm is that there is always plenty of variety.

We now have access to a set of skittles. One of the group is a regular player in the local leagues and he’s training us up for a game at the Christmas party.

I’m not sure it’s going to be a great game. I managed a complete miss, which ended up in the raised vegetable bed that formed the back of the “alley”. We’d been warned about that by the farmer’s mum so we had to cover it up quickly!

I also managed to put several balls straight between the skittles without even making one shiver. That’s one of the differences between skittles and ten pin bowling, apart from the lack of shared shoes and heating – the spacing between pins is wider than a ball.

If I say I was about average you’ll get some idea of the standard. Fortunately we do it for fun.


In the afternoon we turned our attention to making paper chains.


On Saturday they will be used to decorate Santa’s trailer. I’m not really looking forward to it, as I may have mentioned before. Small children, four hours overheating in false facial hair and a bumpy trailer ride – what could possibly go wrong?

Finally, courtesy of a £5 hat from TESCO , I have an elf to help me. I’m not sure which of us has the better deal. He gets to use his own beard but at least I’m spared the humiliation of knitted comedy ears.


Soup and Santa Claus

Warning: Several animals were killed in the making of this post – sorry if it upsets you but farmers don’t keep pets, as we tell all our visitors.

It was an eventful end to the week, with 35 wanting soup and a variety of other things taking place, including a double-booking that slipped through the system and another college visit.

I’m going to concentrate on the soup, because the rest aren’t so easy to photograph.

Here’s picture number one, consisting of a mass of bones in a pot with a few veg (known as mirepoix when making stock). We had the bones of several pigs available after sending some off for slaughter last week and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. First we roasted the bones for the additional flavour, then set the whole mixture to bubble away for hours. How long? Well, from when it was ready till it was time to go home. Sorry, I really will start to do proper recipes soon.

With three pots of bones steaming away the place was, to be honest,  starting to look like Jeffrey Dahmer’s hobby room. I’m not sure if the addition of the vegetables made it look better or worse.


                                                                                                                                                The “before” and “after” of the stock

Three pots of bones produced nine pints of stock. It lost a bit of flavour as I had to dilute it to make 20 pints of soup. First add barley to the liquid and cook for 15 minutes to half an hour – recipe suggestions varied so I just cooked it till it tasted half cooked. Then I softened onions and celery and added them plus 24 diced potatoes, a packet of frozen vegetables (carrots, peas, cauliflower, brocolli, onion) more diced carrot and swede. A bit later I added the cut up turkey left over from the turkey tasting event at the weekend then right at the end of cooking I added chopped kale.  If you’re going to reheat it leave things with a little bite to them so they don’t get overly soft. This isn’t a great picture because it shows the soup before it was properly re-heated so there’s a bit of fat on top. That’s something else that needs improving before I start doing more recipes.

I’m not particularly proud of the packet of frozen veg or the ready to use carrot and swede but I had plenty to do without spending all morning chopping veg. In my defence I would like to point out that I used our own free-range pork and turkey and picked the rosemary, thyme and bay leaves from the garden.


You may spot a small red dot on top of the soup. That’s because I’ve had complaints about seasoning in the past. Each of the three pots got two tsp of sea salt, two of ground black pepper, a six inch sprig of rosemary, four big springs of thyme, a couple of bay leaves, a finely diced red chilli with a few seeds left in and a piece of fresh ginger about the size of the top joint of my thumb.

It had a good rich taste of stock and herbs and a bit of an afterburn. I’d say it was a satisfactory warm soup for use after a morning disturbing game birds.

Two of the pots contain enough for ten portions or so and the bigger one should do a bit more. In the end there were fewer than 35 wanting soup, but we still got through 27 portions with no complaint.

Meanwhile, to ensure the contents of the blog match the title, here’s a picture of me trying out my costume for the Christmas Event at the weekend.


I’m not big on the concept of jollity but sometimes you just have to go with the flow.