Monthly Archives: Sep 2015

Black Cats, Sheep Wars and Apples

The Farmer is on holiday and, as usual, things are going wrong. I’m not sure if he plans it like this or not, but I do know we got a phone call yesterday because he had said we would sort out the kitten problem. I also know he has made provision for someone to help move sheep in a couple of days, and has left details of where to buy fencing materials if we need them, so I’m suspicious that he knew we were going to – not that the sheep are any of our business – we just help with them for something to do.

We had a number of complaints about the sheep wandering so we went down for a look. They had pretty much eaten all the grass and then, as they do, forced holes in the woeful fence looking for more grass.

We blocked the holes, gave them a bale of hay and are currently keeping our fingers crossed that this will do the job for another couple of days. It probably won’t  work now that they have the taste for escaping, but the farm apprentice who has been left in charge doesn’t want to move them until the appointed day. Imagine me letting out a big sigh here…

Whilst checking the fence we found it had actually been cut. Added to the incident a couple of weeks ago when somebody turned an electric fence off and several other things it’s looking like we have a vandal problem. It’s not the Pleasant Valley War (though the Farmer is currently visiting Arizona) but it’s still a nuisance.

So, I hear you ask, what is the “kitten problem”? Well, we were given two black cats – brother and sister – last year when one of the volunteers decided we needed a farm cat. He first fixed us up with a Bengal, which spent six months attacking people and drifting off for days at a time. It was the “attacking people” bit that had resulted in her being given away after two attempts to rehome her with people who appreciated the breed went wrong.. We just wanted a cat so, though she was an interesting cat, we weren’t that bothered when she spent less and less time with us (obviously finding a better offer elsewhere, as they do!)

The second attempt were the brother and sister black cats. They were from a charity – chipped, health checked and supposedly neutered/spayed.

The male ran under a car shortly after he got here but the female kept putting in regular appearances, even coming into the office sometimes.

Yesterday she was spotted in the company of half a dozen kittens.

That leads me to one of several conclusions:

  • She wasn’t spayed
  • She’s not the original black cat we had
  • She’s running a creche

Despite asking people all day I can’t find anyone who wants a kitten so it looks like a trip to the RSPCA. I suspect they won’t be grateful…

Apart from that we picked apples. It’s that time of year.




It’s a bit of a blur, but I finally got my shot of the hummingbird hawk moth.

It was quite a cool morning and we only had weak sun so I was a bit surprised when Julia shouted from the front garden to tell me it was in the garden.

Luckily, as we were packing the car at the time, I had my camera to hand. It would have been better if we’d had the Canon to hand but you can’t have everything.

Does anyone know if they fly in cooler weather? I’ve seen four this year – two of the other three sightings were in the evening as things were cooling down. The fourth was in the polytunnel, where it kept flying at my head – I’m thinking this probably isn’t typical behaviour.

The length of the tongue is amazing, and makes you marvel at the accuracy as they flit around feeding from small flowers.


Community Apple Pressing and an Apple Gadget

Since the intervention of the AA the car hasn’t missed a beat and, in the way of intermittent faults, if the fault won’t show itself the garage can’t correct it. At the moment I’m driving round trusting to luck and hoping this faultless performance continues until I can get back to the garage on Tuesday. It may be more sensible to leave it in the garage until then but the reality is that at £10 each on the bus, or £30 in a taxi, it makes economic sense to drive to work.

It was Community Apple Pressing Day today again, and we had a variety of people discussing apples, neighbours, juicing, pigs, compost, rugby and recycling containers. That’s Community for you – always plenty to talk about.


By the end we had 55 big bottles and 45 small ones. I make that 52 litres. It isn’t much compared tothe 90 gallon capability claimed for the large press but allowing time for talking and pasteurising it too plenty of time. Producing juice, it must be said, is the easiest bit of the process with an industrial size scratter. Cleaning, sorting, washing equipment, sterilising bottles and pasteurising all seem to be endless tasks compared to the simple act of tipping apples into a machine and pressing the juice from the pulp.


Juklia bought me an Apple Master – it peels, cores and makes the apple into a spiral all at the same time. I’m not sure what its practical use is but it’s great for engaging people. She is a wonderful woman and I’m lucky to have her. (That’s a voluntary statement – she didn’t tell me to say it!)


Flintham Ploughing Match – as good as it gets

IMG_5897 IMG_5899 IMG_5888 IMG_5833I’ve just had an unexpected day off, due to the return of an intermittent fault in the car. Thanks to the AA I had a quick check, a diagnosis and an escort to my local garage. They are currently up to their eyes in it so it’s a case of keeping my fingers crossed that they can get me back on the road tomorrow.

This has just highlighted a deficiency in the English language. There don’t seem to be any degrees of intermittency. Mittent does appear in the dictionary but it’s listed as an obsolete term to do with emitting. Ideally I’d be here telling you that I had an intermittent fault of increasing mittency that eventually became almost mittent.

Instead I’ll just have to say that I had an intermittent fault that reappeared this morning, becoming so frequent that at one time we could only limp along 25 yards at a time.

There was a time that I’d have made the most of it, but I now find myself content to avoid the housework and nod off in front of daytime TV. Seems like I’m going to have to face facts – this is “the most of it” these days.

As I was being escorted back to the garage by the AA we left Julia by the side of the road with a pile of bags. She, it seems, is irreplaceable, so they sent a car down from the show to pick her up. They were content to let me have the day off, but I’m trying not to read too much into that.

She had a good day, supported by most of the Quercus group, who always turn out to support us at Flintham and Open Farm Sunday. She was visited all day by schoolkids who remembered their visits to the farm, so we must be doing something right. She also had a number of enquiries from schools wanting to visit next year. All in all it seems to have been a good day.

Bees, butterflies, toast and jam

The Speckled Wood was still in the polytunnel this morning so we were able to show it to the group. Although I’ve seen a few about earlier in the year they were down at the other end of the farm and the count, strictly speaking, is only butterflies we’ve seen in the butterfly garden area.

There were no butterflies outside, though there were some pollinators working the ice plants.

It’s not a bad butterfly list this year – seventeen species of butterfly and eight of moths though it could also include “Greyish-brownish moth” as a ninth entry (my ID skills are totally inadequate when it comes to moths).


Speckled Wood

Last year was fourteen butterfly and three moth.

I think the rise in species is down to spending more time looking and improved ID skills rather than an actual increase, but it’s nice to see it go up.

We’re hoping to start moth trapping before Christmas so we will certainly see a few more species added to the list.

The jam is looking good, and doesn’t taste too bad either. I’m being less ambitious this year – no big batches of chutney and no jellies.


Toast with Damson Jam

We’re all set for the show, or near enough, though I’m a little nervous about the apple supply; I don’t think we have enough if a lot of schools want a go. However, after the Centigrade./Fahrenheit debacle of a couple of years ago where I turned up to find the mobile oven was raked out and “ready” for me well before reaching temperature, I can pretty much blag anything.

Apple pressing may turn into apple juice tasting and, if I can persuade them to use the spittoons like a proper tasting, I can recycle the contents for the next group…

…OK, perhaps not, but it’s an idea with a certain economic charm about it.

The problem was that the thermometer on the “new” mobile oven we had bought was in Fahrenheit, where we all work to Centigrade these days. Nobody thought to double check, they just raked it out at 350ish.

At 350 degrees C a wood-fired oven will take the hair off your arm when you stick it through the door and will cook pizzas in minutes. At 350 degrees Fahrenheit it gently caresses the hairs on your arm like a tropical breeze and pizzas take twenty minutes or more.

That day we ended up baking bread rolls and, as the heat died completely in the afternoon we merely practised our dough plaiting techniques. It wasn’t my finest hour, but I kept the schools busy, which is what we’re there for.

Writing is easy, it’s the titles I struggle with…

Dropped Number One son off in town for the second day of his Master’s degree then proceeded to have breakfast at Sainsburys, followed by shopping for crickets at the Garden Centre. It was a varied morning.

Arrived at the farm for 11.00, checked the polytunnels and managed to get photographs of a Speckled Wood. It really didn’t want to settle but I eventually managed a few decent shots. Meeting with a woman about an arts project that we’re trying to get going, meeting to teach me how to work the website and lunch. For once the meetings were quite useful.


Damson jam with camoflaged tops

Julia went of to view the tent we’re working in at the Ploughing Match whilst I did various things of little consequence before making a dozen jars of damson jam. I did it with the stones in after last year’s debacle and am hoping I fished them all out. It’s saved a lot of time though I’m just dreading the first complaint about a broken tooth. Sensitive subject at the moment as I pulled a crown off whilst chewing gum last week.

Rained later, which isn’t good for the show.


I’ve always found rain difficult to photograph

That’s it, short post today.

Me, impersonating a hamster

Well, we’ve bitten the bullet and announced the shed will be open every Friday from 10.30 until 12.30. Let’s see if the initial enthusiasm translates into a a viable membership.

I used to use a lathe with my grandfather when I was in my early teens and I wish I’d carried on with it, but I didn’t and I’m going to have to relearn the skills again. It’s just one of a range of handicraft skills I let lapse over the years. I’m also going to have a crack at making wooden toys. It’s another thing that runs in the blood – the same grandfather made so many black market toys from scrap wood during the war he was able to buy a bath. A proper bath, that is, rolled top and all, not a hip bath.

He was a very industrious man, my grandfather. He joined up twice and his employers made the RAF cough him up twice because they couldn’t do without him. He spent all day as a quarry foreman at a cement company (they need a lot of cement in wartime, what with runways and pill boxes and such) and all night as a fireman, serving in Manchester and Liverpool during the blitz. I’m not quite sure where his spare time came from but he didn’t let it go to waste.

As I sit here, frittering my time with inconsequential chat on a blog I’m not sure he’d be pleased to see the way I turned out.

In group terms the day started badly when the taxi turned up with only three people. They said they’d told the driver he’d missed a pick-up but we’re not sure, as they aren’t keen on the new arrangement where there are four of them in the taxi.

It was all sorted by a quick call to the taxi company, but it wasn’t a great start.

It’s also an example of what happens when cost-cutting leads to the use of cheaper and less efficient taxi companies, though some would call me cynical.

It was a rainy day and though we rewove some willow hedge, potted herbs for the Ploughing Match and polished off a number of odd jobs, it didn’t seem like we did much as it was all in bits and bats.

Apple pressing again tomorrow – they sold so much at the weekend we need another pressing just to restock the cafe. That’s good, but it also puts me in mind of a hamster constantly circling in his wheel.