Monthly Archives: April 2016


I’ve been asked for more detail on the agroforestry project we’re running. If you aren’t interested in agroforestry/permaculture the next few minutes could be quite boring. If you are interested, you may find the next few minutes lacking in detail; as with so many things, I have a wide but shallow knowledge of the subject.

If I say it’s also known as alley cropping it may help you envisage what I’m trying to describe. The video here gives a good explanation, though it’s American so the crops differ.

The idea is that although we give up some land to the trees they will have financial benefits when we crop the apples and other less quantifiable benefits, including shelter, micro-climate, biodiversity and  organic matter.

The organic matter will come from the leaves in autumn and the smaller prunings, which will be left to rot.

Biodiversity will result from the trees giving homes to a range of birds and insects. Hopefully this will result in some form of biological pest control, though I’m not sure that it won’t also offer a have to pests. I must look that up.

The final benefits are shelter and better micro-climate. That’s what we are trying to measure. Common sense tells you that the trees will act as wind breaks and that it should be warmer in the alleys (if the wind is coming from the side). As with  a lot of common sense, nobody has any figures to back it up. There are figures on the internet about the wind breaking power of trees, and their capacity to form warm micro-climates but it seems there isn’t much evidence to back it up.

At the moment we measure the wind speed and temperature at various points in the alleys every month. The Woodland Trust has provided the equipment and training for this and we send them the results each time we measure. We also measure the trees once a year, though it’s not very difficult at the moment with them being shorter than I am. The test will come in a year or two when we see if we’ve been able to remember how to use the inclinometers.

This measuring will be done for the next 20 or 25 years (I forget exactly, as I won’t be here by then) and will, we hope, be very useful in calculating the benefits of this sort of planting.


It’s that time again…

It’s tree time again, taking the climate readings between the rows of trees in the agroforestry area. We’re still not seeing much difference in wind and temperature between the rows, but as the trees are still rather stick-like this isn’t really a surprise. Hopefully they will start to modify the micro-climate more as they start to leaf up.

There are still over 23 years of the measuring project to go so there is plenty of time for something to develop.

As you can see, the rhubarb (which we grew from seed last year) is looking reasonable, though I don’t think we will be pulling much this year. It is accompanied by a number of random daffodils, and I have to confess I haven’t a clue as to why we have them there or who planted them. I suppose it looks springlike.

Some more on kites (which were known as “paddocks” in bygone days). It’s by John Clare, who was born not too far from where the kites now fly. I took it from the Yorkshire Red Kite site.

“Ah, could I see a spinney nigh,
A paddock riding in the sky,

Above the oaks, in easy sail,
On stilly wings and forked tail.”

John Clare (c1820)

What I now need is a picture of a kite over an oak, now where can I find one…


A paddock riding in the sky





It was an interesting day on Saturday. Breakfast at Sainsbury’s, which is not quite as glamorous as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, dropped Julia off at work, had a couple of hours on the farm (including solving the fat ball/jackdaw conundrum) and a trip to see my father in Peterborough.

It was all going so well until I went for a cup of tea with my sister, and the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. It was strange, we went into the services on the A1 on a moderate spring day, had tea and scones and then emerged in mid-winter. All in all it was a bit of a Narnia moment.

As you can see in the pictures, there was a fair amount of wintry stuff on the floor, a sort of cross between snow and hail. If I was an Eskimo I’m sure I would know the right word for this sort of snow, but unfortunately I’m not, and I don’t.

There are two possibilities from here, home up the A1 or home via the Northamptonshire countryside. I like Northamptonshire, and I also like the Red Kites you often see along the road between Peterborough and Corby.

As you can see, the weather got better.

The final picture shows a blob of dirt (I was using my old camera) and a Red Kite wheeling just above the tree.


Red Kite over oak tree

Sourdough – the results

It’s a bit like one of those television talent shows isn’t it? Days after the main event – here are the results.

The difference lies in the talent of course – we do have some talented bakers amongst our members, as the pictures will show,  whereas the title “Britain’s Got Talent” is probably an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 .

So far everything looks to have great texture and crumb, and is making my mouth water.

But enough of my ramblings – here are the results. What do you think?

Sourdough Days

In which the Bread Lady gets complicated…

It was sourdough today, but as it takes time there will be no pictures of delicious looking bread. Instead everyone poured the dough into brotforms and went home.

To me that’s a bit like a rugby match I once attended (Leicester Tigers v Bath in 2010). The score was 21 – 15. A drop goal and six penalties to five penalties. There is something immensely unsatisfactory about a game of rugby with no tries. It was raining too, and I had a group of  Under-14s with me. The game was televised and I’m told you could see me sitting in the rain in an open stand behind the goal looking more and more miserable every time someone scored.

Anyway, there were some dazzling skills on display today and a number of very competent breadmakers in attendance. If I tell you that the number of competent breadmakers didn’t quite equal the number of people attending I’m sure you will get the picture. We had every possible scenario from one batch that formed a crust as soon as the air got to it and another that looked like the perpetrator was pouring pancake batter.


Gail doesn’t usually betray much emotion in class, but even she looked incredulous at what Barry had done using just flour and water

Gail was at her best; she loves the science of breadmaking, and the more complicated it is the better she likes it. However, before I say too much I will pause and reflect that she had 15 people at her session where I only attracted three last time I filled in for her. People clearly like complication. (Also note that it has not been possible, despite trying for three years, to take a picture of Gail with her eyes open and her hands still.)

Fair enough, I suppose, if you really want simple bread you can jump in the car and buy a crap loaf from the supermarket.

I always recall a story of Ancient Egypt about the advent of leavened bread (we can tell they used yeast because you can see it in ancient bread remains if you use an electron microscope. (And they say that archaeology is dull!) Conjecture has it that yeast was introduced into bread when an Egyptian baker kneaded the bread with his feet whilst suffering from athlete’s foot.

It’s probably not true. In fact it’s almost certainly not true. However, when you taste sourdough bread it’s hard to stop that suspicion of truth entering your mind.

If you want to join the bread class check out the farm website. It’s great fun and I can recommend it for a good morning out with convivial company.

I will end there. My work is done, and I wonder how many of you will be able to eat sourdough without thinking of Egyptian feet from now on…




Sheep, doves and teddy bears

A couple of hours before I took the teddy bear picture that bear was just an idea and a ball of cotton yarn. Compared to my day (writing minutes, avoiding goosegrass, answering emails, wrestling with camera manuals and stalking birds on feeders) it seems a good use of time. When you think that the collared dove and robin pictured above were the best shots of the day you can see I’m not going to set the world of nature photography on fire.

I should have known the moth photo in the previous post was too good to be true.

After much heart-searching we’ve finally cleared out the old bus shelter in preparation for demolition. It’s just too rotten to merit the work we would have to do to restore it, particularly as someone has donated a very serviceable second hand shed.

As you may have guessed from my comment, I didn’t get round to cooking goosegrass. In truth, I’m not that inspired and, having been a bit rushed this week, I have procrastinated. I am leaving it till Friday, and hope to have found some decent recipes by then. So far the ones I have found suggest tossing it in butter, putting it in a stew or using it to stuff a mattress. I know someone who juices it, but instead of inspiring me it just fills me with dread.

Frankly, I don’t trust green juice. It may be full of goodness, and it must be character-forming, but I’ve never felt the need to drink anything that wasn’t red, orange or yellow.



New Camera

After a few days thinking and looking at cameras I finally came to a decision.

My current camera, an Olympus SZ 14 has been great, and has taken thousands of photos in all weathers and been subject to carelessness, gravity and neglect. It is still working, though with a speck of dirt in the works it needs a clean.

At £99 it is now far cheaper than the price I originally paid, and if I pay for the sensor to be cleaned it will cost me at least a third of that price.

Alternatively I could buy an Olympus SP 820 UZ. No, I don’t know why it needs such a long name. It’s a bigger camera and, crucially, has a bigger lens (40x zoom instead of 24x). I’ve always been impressed by the 24x, but 40x is quite an attraction. It’s £155.

Both cost more than I want to spend at the moment, but neither of them is expensive in camera terms.


Well, I’m a man, so I was obviously going to go for the bigger zoom wasn’t I?

It arrived yesterday, while I was too busy to use it, and today there have been few subjects.

However, I did get a chance to photograph a moth (a Small Magpie) that was resting on the ceiling. I think I’m going to like the new camera. It’s bulkier, feels less substantial and has a flimsy battery cover, but it’s just like the old one in use and it takes decent photos.


A question of character

We will shortly be ensuring ourselves a lively few days. It’s time for the goats to go outside again and this time they are going in one of the pens at the top of the allotment area. Based on previous years this means we’re going to be doing a regular amount of goat chasing, as they seem to find it easy to escape from, and quite a lot of extracting heads from fences. For some reason the size of the mesh in the fence is a perfect match for a goat’s head going forwards. When you try to get them out backwards it’s a different matter. With  a recalcitrant goat and a set of backward facing horns it isn’t an easy job, though blindfolding them with a handkerchief seems to make it easier for some reason.

We’ve now had over 160 lambs so we’re a touch over halfway through. That’s good because there’s only so much cuteness you can take, plus there is a limit to good humour when people keep knocking on the door asking if they can look at the lambs.

My favourite farm animals are the guinea fowl, followed by goats, and pigs. It’s based on character. Chickens I can take or leave. Sheep?  No comment.

Lots of people like sheep.

Then again, lots of people like reality TV.

No judgement, just saying…





It’s taken five days and a lot of sneaking about, but I finally managed to get a picture. It’s a bit misty, but that’s what happens when you take photographs through a dirty window.

The flowers are starting to come out too, though spring in this area is advancing by halting steps.

The goosegrass is doing well and this year I’m going to try eating it. I’ve just tried a few bits raw and though the hooks do give it a strange texture it wasn’t too bad, with a bit of a pea taste. I’m going to check out some recipes and give it a go on Wednesday. Will also be picking the first of the nettles for soup and quiche. They say that real men don’t eat quiche, but I’m not sure if that still applies when you make it with nettles.

Purple dead nettles are both showing well, though there is no ground ivy yet. Of the staples, we don’t have much chickweed yet and the mallow hasn’t really started. There are a few borage plants starting to show but no Fat Hen yet.

I will add things to the Wild Food page as I try them. I’ve just been making a few additional notes – things like Fat Hen soup was OK and never eat stonecrop, though to be fair I don’t suppose many people will try eating stonecrop. You have to be desperate for content to do that.

More later, but I’d better get back to “proper work” now.


I’ve now caught up with myself.

First call today was the dentist for my regular check up and to let him look at my broken tooth.  It’s been a problem for over 30 years and a three weeks ago, after Julia treated me to some of my favourite sweets (sugared almonds), it finally disintegrated.  I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it’s been aching on and off for five years or so, and gradually crumbling for the last year, so it will be a relief to get rid of it. On the other hand, apart from wisdom teeth, It’s the first adult tooth I’ve lost and it seems like a big step towards senile decrepitude.

I may not actually be standing on the crumbling edge looking down into the grave, but I’m getting close.

It has been smoothed off, and in 15 days it will be removed.

“Do you bleed a lot?” asked the dentist.

“No,” I replied, “but I am a coward.”

He laughed. I think he thought I was joking.

We saw two Brimstones and an unidentified white butterfly as we travelled to the farm, though there were none when we arrived because it’s cold and windy again today. We have had a lot of birds in trees by the roadside, including bullfinches (presumably after the buds) and greenfinches, which we don’t see often. Looking at some photographs from yesterday I see I have a good photo of two pied wagtails in the field with the sheep. I hadn’t noticed them at the time and they are, unfortunately, too small to show up in blog-sized photographs.

Julia went to Men in Sheds when we arrived, whilst I started looking for instructions on how to take my camera apart. I only found one, and that showed how to replace  a screen, which doesn’t show enough of the interior for me to feel confident about mending it myself.

Repair charges start at £30, and that is for much simpler jobs. I have a feeling we are looking at £50 plus and in the end I will have a clean sensor but the rest of the faults such as a scratched screen and intermittent fault with the zoom action will still be with me.

Time to do some thinking.


Julia, meanwhile, emerged from the Shed with a big smile on her face. Phase One of her mysterious plan is going into action. It involves pink paint and plywood, but I can say no more.