Monthly Archives: March 2016

Time passes, things change

Returned to work today, to find that the view has changed slightly after the high wind at the weekend. The Neighbours are now Man leaning on fence and Woman lying down.


That’s a job for later, as it’s all about lambing on the farm at the moment.

If we put her back up all will return to normal, but if not you will be able to date pictures of the farm to pre- and post- Easter 2016 depending on the number of statues you can see.

Easter, Spring, Lambs and Happiness

The sheep had a set of twins yesterday. So far we’ve had nothing today, but it’s early yet.

I’m writing this quietly as Julia is conducting a 9.00 am meeting on the desk next to me.  I say desk, because it sounds more professional than table. It’s all about outputs and throughput and footfall over there.

On this side it’s about Safer Food, Better Business because we had a kitchen inspection on Saturday. It didn’t go well because the duty cook washed their hands in the washing up sink and put a pack of raw sausages down in the wrong place. There’s nothing major on the list, and they were generally happy. However, it did take a couple of hours out of yesterday and will take a few more hours to sort yet.

The annoying thing is that my main activity (cooking vegetarian bakery products, jams and chutneys)) wouldn’t even require registration. I’m supposed to be working on a grant application, which needs to be done in the next couple of days, but instead I’m working on cleaning schedules and staff training. Even as I write these words I’m concious that this is a very minor annoyance.

In contrast to most offices, I can’t hear traffic noise. Mostly I hear sheep bleating and cocks crowing. The most invasive sound is the calling of Great Tits, a sound often likened to a squeaky wheelbarrow or squeaky bicycle pump.

Once we finish here (in about an hour) we are off until Tuesday, as Julia has taken the weekend off work. The clocks go back this weekend, and as we get up at 5 am on Sundays, the last thing we need is to lose an extra hour.

I’m going to stop now, as there’s a fine line between happiness and smugness when you write about it. Hopefully I’ve not stepped over the line.



The Egg and Spoon Race

After moving sheep and collecting eggs we had a talk about compost, aided and abetted by Farmer Ted the agricultural bear. We like compost. Well, to be accurate, we like composting. We’re not too fussed about actually spreading it because it seems like a waste.

If I could incorporate it into a recipe I’d be happy, as well made moist compost always reminds me of a nice, rich Christmas cake, and the drier sort reminds me of Grape Nuts, but I suspect I’m in a minority.

We then went on to the Easter Egg and Spoon Race Championship, where there seemed to be a lot of winners. I suspect political correctness was at work here. Even I was allowed a share of the chocolate (though I only had a modest portion) despite allegations of cheating. As you can see from the photographs, the diet has a long way to go so a few grams of chocolate isn’t going to do much damage.

For the record I took part in three races, being disqualified from each one (obstruction, shirt pulling and use of sellotape). Strikes me that people just don’t take Egg and Spoon racing seriously enough.


It’s still not feeling very springlike. Though it’s ten degrees Centigrade outside, it’s overcast and there’s a gusting breeze from the north which makes it feel quite chilly.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem for the poultry in the yard, who are foraging actively as I type.


They don’t seem to have a bad life. They have food, water and plenty of room to roam. We don’t lose any to predators, so they must have found a safe place to roost, and they have plenty of shelter from the weather. With glossy plumage and chicks being hatched every year they seem to be in great condition.

On the downside, we rarely find their eggs, but they look so decorative we forgive them for that. We do, after all, have other poultry in runs to produce eggs.

I have to say that after my experience of poultry suggests that they don’t have an active intellectual life, but then again, with a brain the size of my fingernail, they are probably too dim to realise that. Even if they did want to read they are going to have problems without having hands.

Radio, on the other hand, is a different matter. I have known people play the radio to chickens. I’ve been told several times that poultry find it soothing. I have also seen it used where poultry sheds were near RAF bases – the theory being that they will get used to the noise and not panic when jets fly over.

One man told me that his poultry preferred classical music, but everyone else used popular music programmes (I’m tempted to mention the Light Programme but that might show my age). It’s difficult to decide what a chicken likes, as I suspect that the choice of programme was dictated by the musical tastes of the egg collectors rather than the poultry.

One day, if I am reincarnated as a scientist, I may research that question by playing Radio 1, Radio 4 and Classic FM to groups of poultry. It could be a tricky ethical area, as I’m not sure that being compelled to listen to radio 1 all day falls within the welfare codes.



Footnote: My experience of working with poultry on deep litter near RAF Wittering in the Harrier days (and they were noisy!) was that they all fluttered and fussed the first time it happened and then just used to go quiet and cluck a bit on subsequent occasions. 




First Lambs

Well, I was right about the sheep being less reliable than a calendar. The first lambs (twins) came a couple of hours after the last post, though only one survived. The other one isn’t looking particularly healthy either. It’s not an upbeat way to start a post, but that’s farming for you.

That’s the problem with sheep, too much drama. Chickens will lay eggs by the hundred and pigs will pump out dozens of piglets, but ask a sheep to drop a couple of lambs and it’s like a Shakespearean tragedy. Royal babies are born with less effort.

Julia and the group collected the eggs, planted bedding and measured the micro-climate in the agroforestry project today. We’ve also been watching the Peregrine Falcons on the Nottingham Trent University webcam.



Meanwhile I’ve offered encouragement, sent emails, done a couple of bookings, tweeted, blogged, had a neighbour in to discuss the Easter Egg Hunt, helped another with an email account and had half an hour on the phone to the NHS discussing the state of my health. They are convinced that I’m unhealthy because I’m fat, and though it’s true that I could be thinner and fitter I don’t generally feel too bad. However, by the time I’d finished with the telephone consultation I did feel a bit peaky. The NHS tends to have that effect on me.

We did establish one interesting point – I have more units of cake a week than I do of alcohol. Two biscuits is one unit. Two! I admitted to eight units a week. What has it come to when I am completely open about my smoking (gave up 15 years ago), drinking (almost none these days) and exercise (ditto) but find myself lying about my biscuit habit?

It doesn’t look like a particularly industrious day, despite the effort involved in lying about my biscuit intake. It’s certainly not, as the man from the NHS pointed out, been a day of exercise.

Now I’m going to brew tea and have a meeting, and no, I will not be having a biscuit.



The first day of Spring – again

For the second time this year we have had the first day of Spring. It was actually yesterday (Sunday 20th march) but for some reason I had the 21st stuck in my mind.

This time it’s astronomical Spring rather than an arbitrary calendar date, as it’s the time of the Spring Equinox. From now on the days will be longer than the nights. Next weekend we put the clocks forward and move onto the optimistically named British Summer Time.

Lambing starts in six days, though we had a good look at the sheep by the side of the lane this morning as they are not quite as accurate as the calendar.



Yesterday once more

Once again, I’m a day behind, so I will do two days in one.

It was the bread group yesterday and we had a bit of a sad one as we broke in the middle to plant a tree in memory of one of the group who died recently. It’s in the area where we sit to drink tea in the summer, so we’ll think of him regularly and in years to come we’ll also pick the apples off the tree.


This is one of those times when I’m not really sure what to say as I’m not a great one for displays of emotion. The sun shone, we read a poem and the birds sang. It was as good as it could be when you consider the reason for the gathering.

Back in the kitchen we made a simple wholemeal loaf. There’s a comfort in gathering to make bread, and as one of the members said, we’ve had births and marriages in the group, and now a death, so we’re just like a family. Well, better than  a family really, as none of them ever raid my fridge or hog the bathroom.

As I locked up I walked out of the front and surprised two red-legged partridges dust bathing in the middle of the yard. It really must be getting sunny for them to do that.


Friday started well with a big flock of fieldfares on the way down the lane and a good sighting of a group of finches that included half a dozen reed buntings (first sighting of the year for them). There were rooks on the sheep field and a single cock pheasant standing in the middle, looking like he owned the place.

We then had a group of 12 kids come out from the city. They come three times a year and they are always a good group as they are brought out as a reward for good behaviour and their hard work in ecological matters. It’s also a lot easier to have a good cooking session when you can get round the kitchen properly.

You also feel that you are actually teaching them something as most of our groups are from local schools and they know quite a lot about food and farming.

The best pizza was the owl, though they all seemed to taste good, judging from the way they laid into them at lunch. We haven’t had olives for a while (I’ve been feeling tight) but they do make a difference to pizza designs. I must make a note of that for future reference.

The bread is excellent, by the way. We ate some as soon as I got home, spread with the home made damson jam. I’ll put the recipe on the recipe page later.


A plan comes together

It’s a busy day today and everywhere seems crowded, we even had three buzzards wheeling over the sheep field when we stopped to look at the ewes this morning. I managed to get some sheep photos but the effort of capturing tiny specks with no viewfinder was too much for me. Nice picture of clouds in a bright blue sky, but little else.

We’ve had a bit of a sheep-based day for Quercus, with felted sheep and sheep lollies. In the morning we had a college visit again, and they completed the work on the goats and bedded the pigs. No electric fences today!

Both groups are now moving chickens to the new accommodation that has been repaired by Men in Sheds. They are going to be out on the fields, though we will have to keep an eye out for high winds as I’m not sure how stable the new coops are.

I love a day like this – when everything falls into place like a well made plan. Derelict chicken coops resurrected by Men in Sheds providing work experience for animal care students and an activity for our group. At times like this I feel like we are really getting somewhere, but at the back of my mind I always find that thought about what is going to go wrong next…

Another Pizza Tuesday

Another week and another pizza session.

Many of them merge into one and only a few stick in my memory. There was one last week where all the kids seemed really switched on, and knew the answers to the questions involving mummification and Christopher Columbus. Yes, it all relates to pizza…

Then there are others where the helpers decide to take their own session at the back of the class or where the teachers think they are still taking the class. The two sessions this Tuesday both had helpers who wanted to take their own sessions, but the first session also had a teacher who stepped in to contradict me. I can’t help wondering what would have happened if I’d visited her class and told them all she was wrong in mid-sentence.

For the record, if I’d been allowed to finish what I was saying she would have seen I was correct.

She’d already corrected me for using the term “groups of two” – it seems they are “pairs”. She then went on to answer for various children when I asked if they wanted more water for their dough. She said they didn’t, and though I did eventually manage to get extra water in most of them we still had some very hard, dry dough.


Some adventurous pizza shapes

We didn’t do the questions about mummification or Christopher Columbus, because it seemed like every time I asked a question I was told “We haven’t done that yet.” or she pursed her lips and shook her head.

I could go on…and on…

Now, I know from past experience, that if I had objected to any of this it would result in a complaint, it always does. I don’t get many complaints, but I am now at a stage when I can predict them. I’m also at a stage where I’m getting fed up with this sort of stuff, to the extent I’m seriously thinking of stopping.

So the question for today is, do any of you polite, tactful readers know of a way to handle this sort of situation? Are there any secret code words I can use to make myself part of the teaching fraternity? Or any special ways of saying “be quiet”?

I already start the lesson by telling people what we are going to do, that we are going to do it stage by stage at the pace of the slowest group (I’m a little more tactful than that) and that I will issue instructions for each phase, but it doesn’t seem to help.

All suggestions gratefully received (even from teachers!).


In which a farmer gets a shock…

We had a college out today, studying animal husbandry. As with a lot of these things, we interpreted the brief widely and showed them how to put up electric fencing to keep animals in place. It is always interesting, as nettles and electric shocks are a constant hazard for people who aren’t used to working on farms.

They are a constant hazard even for people who do know what they are doing. I once lost the feeling my right arm after touching an electric fence (though it did come back quite quickly, unlike the time I contracted Saturday Night Palsy). The Farmer went one better today, not only touching the fence but being told off for his language after doing so. That really is adding insult to injury.

There isn’t a lot more to add, as it’s been a day of dull work and even duller paperwork. It seems I used the wrong piece of paper for something a couple of weeks ago so I was told off today. The figures were correct but the form was incorrect. I say form, what I actually did was put the money in a paper bag and write the details on the bag. Next time I will use the right form and wrap the money in it. Let’s see how they like loose change all over the place.

There were other things, some nearly as bad as using the wrong form.

It’s also been the day when I had to confess that after putting the farm debit card “somewhere safe” I can’t actually remember where it is. This went down badly.

Fortunately I didn’t compound my crime by reporting it on the wrong form…