Monthly Archives: May 2016


I knew it was going to be windy today because it was windy all last night. I know this because  the wind was coming from the north and my bedroom faces north.

This week last year one of the tents blew down as we prepared for Open Farm Sunday and our runner beans were ravaged by the Arctic blast. This year we have paced ourselves better and won’t be putting the big marquee up until Thursday. We have put the awning up in front of the kitchen, and that is firmly tied to the verandah of the centre and variously weighted down with breeze blocks and gas bottles. Despite this it’s still showing ambitions to fly.

As for the beans, I haven’t even put one out this year.

As you can see from the main picture, the bird feeders have been swinging at some strange angles and feeding birds have been clinging rather than perching. Even they had it easy compared to one of the farmyard poultry, though I didn’t mange to get a picture, so you’ll have to imagine the picture.

Think of a chicken making its way across the yard as a gust of wind catches it. Then think of tumble-weed. Put the two images together and you are close to what happened. Fortunately nothing was injured except for a little avian dignity.

As for other matters, we had a visit from a teacher (who seemed to like us), we have four new pigs, a tail on our pigsaw and I have just completed an internet training course on COSHH in a Food Environment. That’s Control of Substances Hazardous to Health in case you were wondering, and no, it doesn’t include my cooking.



Bird feeder blues

It’s bank Holiday Monday, and as there is nobody in today we are taking the opportunity to catch up.

Julia is planting the new vertical planters (also known as adapted pallets) and I am doing a few odd jobs, including fixing a broken bird feeder, answering emails and writing this.

I have the  better of it, as the wind is playing havoc with the planting. The planned row of lettuces is looking particularly floppy after an hour of being battered by the wind. We will have to see how it goes.


Over the years I’ve accumulated a number of bird feeders of various designs, including a number of cheap ones that feature a plastic hanging loop.  I suppose it’s obvious, when you think about it, that continued exposure to the elements would eventually cause the loop to deteriorate and break.

It’s a nuisance rather than a problem, but as luck would have it, I cannot find any wire or any binder twine in my drawers to make the repair.  That is the trouble with being tidy.

Whilst writing this I’ve also been Googling “bird feeders”. I was immediately attracted to this site. I will include the link  because it’s interesting, though I’m not sure how practical many of them are. The shoe feeder looks interesting, but I’m not sure that my neighbours “are sure to think that you are the most creative person ever”. They would probably think I’m an idiot who nails shoes to trees.

Meanwhile, the jackdaws have discovered the feeder with the suet pellets in it. Is there nothing that they can’t do?


It’s an example of how man interferes with nature. It isn’t such an obvious example as some, but it is a fact that before we brought the pigs to the allotment we didn’t have jackdaws round the centre. Though there were jackdaws about the village they didn’t interfere with our bird feeding and we were able to feed a variety of birds in feeders and on the floor. At the time we fed a lot of fat pellets, because we’d been given several buckets of them, and had no trouble with jackdaws.

Now, after drawing them to the area of the centre with pig food, they won’t leave the bird feeders alone. They are birds, but we don’t need so many large, disruptive birds at the feeder. it seems that anything with fat in it is like a magnet to the jackdaws and that as a result of trying to limit jackdaw activity we have fewer chaffinches, hardly any dunnocks and no wrens. There is very little for robins and blackbirds to eat either, as they like to feed off the floor.

It isn’t just the amount they eat, but that they scare other birds away. They even mobbed the woodpecker when it came for its second visit of the day, though it stood its ground and gave as good as it got.

I’m onto Plan D now, I think. All will be revealed after Open Farm Sunday. I am

Meanwhile, for a discussion on whether we should even be feeding birds, have a look at this.






Weeds and flowers

A good garden may have some weeds.
Thomas Fuller (1608-61)

We’ve had a couple of sets of volunteer gardeners helping us in the last few weeks.  As  a result, the beds are spick and span and weeded and pruned to within an inch of their life.

That’s not, as you may have gathered, my way of gardening.

I’m now having to travel further for my nettles and there is no chickweed or ground ivy at all. It will come back, but for the moment my tour of the edible garden has been reduced to a shadow of what it once was.

At least they didn’t try to weed the buddleias out this year. We’ve had to stop people doing that twice before. My view is that if it’s six feet tall with two inch wide stems, I have seen it and I would have removed it if I wanted it gone.

All in all, despite the pain of the missing foodstuffs, I have to say that it’s very good of people to give up their time and that the majority of the garden is much improved as a result of their work. (There you are, I don’t moan about everything, do I?)

Despite the clay and the wind and the lack of budget the beds are actually looking good this year. We will have to move some things around and do some drastic culling at some point but it’s now looking like a garden.  The periwinkle that started out as a 50p rescue plant from the “almost dead” bargain area of a garden centre is now threatening to take over an entire bed after just two years and has already contributed cuttings to a dozen other beds. The ice plants from the same place are also thriving, though not to the same extent. They do have one advantage over the periwinkle though, the leaves taste of avocado, cucumber or citrus, depending on the day. So at least one edible plant has survived the massacre.

And for the sake of symmetry, let us finish with another quote from Thomas Fuller.

One that would have the fruit must climb the tree.

Sounds impressive but ignores the existence of ladders.

Pride and publicity

Well, Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall, as they say in Proverbs 16:18. And so it came to pass that the BBC decided not to proceed with the filming, and failed to tell us until we rang. There is a fair amount of wailing and rending of garments going on locally at the moment as many spinsters of the parish (and a few married ladies) were looking forward to seeing Matt Baker.

Which all goes to show that it is unwise to count your chickens before they hatch.

The publicity would have been nice, but all is not lost as we have a journalist from Notts TV coming to film. It’s a slightly smaller crew than the BBC (in fact it’s one man with a camera) but it’s TV all the same.

However, talking of cynical media tricks, isn’t that a cute, but out of context goat in the featured image? It’s worth a dozen extra views.

Only a short post for now as I am busy with more salt dough. With only a week to go I need a 300 shapes for kids to paint and 100 tiles for our art installation. See, the media is rubbing off on me, I’d never have said “art installation” last month. I’ve handled so much salt in the last week I swear my fingers are beginning to mummify.


They look like alpacas but they are meant to be lambs

If archaeologists ever dig me up all they will find is my finger tips and three gold teeth. It’s not much to leave to posterity

On the other hand, what has posterity ever done for me?



Here today and scones tomorrow

It was scone day today and we now have several hundred scones cooling in the kitchen. Later we will vacuum pack them and freeze them ready for Open Farm Sunday. I can recommend them highly because I’ve been helping to dispose of the “rejects” and had the opportunity to check several.

When refreshed by a few minutes in a warm oven on Sunday 5th June they will be superb.

Once again it’s a case of thanking the volunteers, some of whom will be away on the day so won’t even get to eat one. Without the bread group we would be a poorer place, both morally and financially, as the tea room they run is our big earner on Open Farm Sunday.

My contribution was limited to photography and gluttony.

I’m currently finishing off the drying of a hundred salt-dough animal shapes because we’ve used all the 65 I made last time. It seemed like a good idea at the time but I hadn’t realised how much time it would take. I am, however rolling it thinner. The hundred have come from the same amount of dough that only made 65 in the previous batch.

Tomorrow I have to produce at least another 100 is we are to have anything like enough for Open Farm Sunday.

Have I mentioned Open Farm Sunday? It’s on June 5th and it’s a good day out.

Email for details of the day. The Bread Group is doing ciabatta in two weeks if anyone fancies popping along – use the same contact address to check we have room.

Bucket lists, birds and boars

You don’t often get to do something for the first time when you’re our age; apart from medical procedures there’s not much novelty left once you start closing in on sixty. Even when it is a novelty, it’s rarely something you want enjoy.

Julia has instructed me to take heed of the requirements of good taste here and not discuss my medical history.

However, today we were able to help someone with her bucket list, as she wanted to hand feed lambs before having an her operation. There’s no accounting for taste, but many people seem to find lambs cute, so Julia laid on the full farm experience, right down to the… er…last detail. I will be tactful on that, but not only does the lady feel like a farmer now, she also smells like one.

I suggested that if she could see her way clear to add “shovelling” to her bucket list we could also accommodate her with that too.

Kirsty did her pig presentation today, which was quite interesting. The idea that pigs are clean animals and can bark were two new concepts that caused quite a bit of discussion, as did the news that wild pigs form a large portion of the diet of tigers in the wild.

I can understand that pigs barking seems strange, and that an animal that rolls in mud to prevent sunburn doesn’t seem that clean at first glance. What I’m struggling with is the idea that we need to worry about what tigers eat. If we ever end up with tigers in Screveton I can’t help feeling that we will have more to worry about than the safety of our pigs.

Apart from that we’ve gardened between showers, refurbished and redesigned a few scarecrows and taken more bird pictures. That woodpecker really does love peanuts!

As you can see from the main picture, the term scarecrow isn’t strictly accurate.

Tomorrow we will be baking scones. I will be taking photographs and lurking in the hope of being fed.


The ethics of biscuits, and other modern dilemmas

I have an unopened packet of biscuits on my desk. This isn’t a normal event, as people don’t generally trust me with biscuits, but so far I have not weakened. The problem with Hobnobs, apart from them tasting nice, is that they have loads of oats in them. That, as far as I’m concerned, elevates them to the level of health food, and it’s difficult to see what the downside of eating them. It’s like eating porridge, but they aren’t grey and nobody tries to make you eat them without sugar.

There’s just a small voice at the back of my mind stopping me (the one saying “No more biscuits, fatso!”), but it’s getting weaker…

My next ethical dilemma is Twitter. It really is the ultimate displacement activity, it takes far too much time and it’s the natural home of idiots. The problem is that it does contain a lot of interesting stuff (including tweets from people I follow on WordPress). I’ve just been looking at a tweet from @CarefarmingUK . It’s a timely reminder that we’re part of a larger movement (it’s very easy to get too wrapped up in yourself when you work out here) and it has a link to a great article.

I wouldn’t like to do without it, but I do feel guilty when wasting time reading it. Yes, I know it’s a question of self-discipline, but it’s nice to have a vice that isn’t fattening. I’m @quercuscommy, if anyone wants to waste time.

The next problem is photography. I waited about twenty minutes to get the photo at the top of the page, managing just a selection of tails and empty frames as the parents went back and forth to the box. It’s not a great shot, but I was happy to get it. I also got another go at the woodpecker and a starling. Was it worth it? I think so. Should I have been doing something more productive? Er…well…

Anyway, I’d better go now as I need to do some work.

I’ll just leave you with one last shot.




Guides, Guides, Guides…

Finally, the third part of today’s triple post.

We have a group of 20 Guides out in a field with Julia and the rain has just started again. From where I’m sitting (dry, smiling and complacent) it seems like a heavy downpour. I must rise from my padded typist’s chair and have a look in a minute. At least it’s not hail, as we had earlier in the day. It flattened my newly transplanted salads and once again made me question the wisdom of growing my own produce.

Programme for the evening visit is animals, salt dough and the making of vegetable soup. In the end we were able to discuss composting and keyhole gardens too.

I blotted my copybook in the first ten minutes by telling one of them that the pigs are currently all in the freezer, and that we don’t keep horses because you can’t eat them. I do like tormenting teenagers, but there is also a serious purpose to this as they have to realise that farming isn’t a hobby, our animals aren’t pets, and that vegetarianism is an option.

(You may have spotted my deliberate error regarding horses. Sorry about that. You can, of course, eat them.)

It all seemed to go well, and most of them will be coming back for a Saturday session in a month or so. They turned the compost energetically, painted a range of salt dough shapes for Open Farm Sunday and their parents bought all the available eggs.

All in all, a good result.

And no, I don’t know why the image of the salt dough shapes has turned itself round. I am bemused.


Trees, trees, trees…


Life isn’t all bird feeders. Some of us (as Julia told me meaningfully) have serious work to do. Today, the serious work was measuring the micro-climate in the agroforestry project. I’m not sure how long we’ve been doing it now, but we’re getting to a point where we will have to measure the trees again. That will be easy, as they aren’t much more than sticks at the moment. What we need to do is start taking photographs of ourselves standing next to them, and take the same photo every year.

It’s amazing how trees creep up on you. I grew up opposite a church. The grass by the roadside was a wide, clear verge. For some reason they decided to plant trees there and one day a thicket of weedy saplings appeared with sticks and tree guards. They looked ill and we all wondered why the church was bothering.

Those trees are now gnarled birches with fissured trunks and green algae. They look like they are a remnant of ancient forest, though I’m sure I was in my twenties when they were planted. Before you say anything, no, I am not that old.

One day, these twiggy sticks will be an orchard (admittedly a long, thin orchard), and one day our measurements will be a Woodland Trust research project. It’s amazing what patience can do.

As Warren Buffett is reported to have said: We are sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. 



Birds, birds, birds…

We washed the bird feeders this morning. It’s one of those jobs that I usually put off as I much prefer watching birds feed to washing grubby feeders. After trying to sterilise some with boiling water last year I’m also a little worried about melting them.

It’s clear from looking at them that several of the feeders have design faults that mean you can’t clean them properly. One now has damp seed trapped in its base, which must be worse than not cleaning it at all, and another quite clearly allows peanuts to fester in the base. They are both very cheap feeders so I can’t complain, but for £1.50 I’m not going to persist with them; I will just buy some that are easier to clean.

In around 1969, after reading The Bird Table Book by Tony Soper, I became very keen on feeding birds, and one of my milestones was the winter when greenfinches started to feed in quantity. From being exotic visitors (compared to the sparrows, chaffinches and starlings that formed the bulk of our garden birds) they rapidly became bullies, because there were just so many of them.

Times change, and after Trichomonas gallinae, swept through the greenfinch population (reducing it by over a third) they aren’t the force they once were. The parasite is thought to be spread by access to dirty feeding equipment, which is why I’m trying to keep ours clean.

Our bullies on the feeders are now jackdaws and goldfinches, and the greenfinches and house sparrows are now uncommon visitors.

Talking of jackdaws, they were on one of the feeders when we arrived this morning – using the support from the flat feeder pan as a perch to attack the peanuts. I have now made a number of changes, which include removing the flat pans and supports. It means that the robins and blackbirds won’t have anywhere to feed, apart from the floor, but I will think of something for them as soon as I can. I’ve also bought a new feeder to supply suet pellets, so they smaller birds are still getting a high energy diet.

Currently we have a couple of jackdaws stalking round and looking puzzled.

The squirrel-proof fat ball feeder at the back of the centre doesn’t stop the jackdaws but it does slow them down, so we will continue using that until we finish the remaining fat balls.  The feeder in the hedge has been replaced with a seed feeder. We get tits and sparrows there on the fat balls, so they should be able to cope with the seeds.

That’s it, apart from a touch of hypocrisy. Shortly after restocking the feeders we had a great spotted woodpecker come to visit the feeding station. To be honest, I’m very pleased it did. They are colourful, and though they aren’t rare, we haven’t had one on the feeder before. The hypocrisy comes into play when you consider they raid nests (and beehives!). The beehives are still a sore point. They aren’t much different from a crow in that respect, but because they are colourful, I tend to forgive them.

As luck would have it, Julia had the new camera out in the field when I needed it, so I had to use the old one to photograph the woodpecker. Isn’t that always the way?