Monthly Archives: August 2016

Bees, buddleias and butterflies

The last week has seen a resurgence of Small Tortoiseshells, peaking at 18 this morning when I did a count.  Having read a Royal Horticultural Society article on buddleia recently, where they didn’t record a single visit from Small Tortoiseshells in 2009, I was beginning to worry.

The article, incidentally, answers a question I was going to research next year – do colours of buddleia matter for attracting butterflies? It seems not – the top four for attracting butterflies were violet (2), white and light blue. They were all at the top end of the trial for scent, which may have a bearing.

It does say that “Foxtail” (number 2 for attracting butterflies) was top in the Butterfly Conservation Buddleia trial, though the 2012 Butterfly Conservation Buddleia Trial had “Dartmoor” as its top variety (which was 12th in the RHS trial).

Yes, I am confused.  I’m also slightly relieved that someone else has already done the work for me. Our two main buddleias don’t seem to have any difference between them at the moment, which suggests that any difference may be down to site rather than colour or scent (as neither of them seem to be scented).

The white and the blue are struggling to establish themselves after last year’s massacre so it’s hard to make any comment on them.

I’ve also lost the tickets for the buddleias we planted so I can’t tell you what cultivar they are.

The mint was also doing well this morning, with Small Tortoiseshells and Mint Moths. It was also heaving with a selection of bees, which makes me wish I knew more about insects.Truth is that I’m at an age where it’s harder to learn, so I may never know much about bees. It’s a gap in my knowledge, but it’s not likely to be too much of a problem, unlike my lack of knowledge about football and horse racing, which are both deadly to my hopes of ever winning Pointless.


Chickens, chintz and a confederacy of dunces

It’s been hot, and the poultry and the polytunnels have both needed a lot of water. So did I by the time I’d spent the best part of twenty minutes in the tunnels.

However, I did get a reasonable picture of an angle shades moth, as featured in the opening picture. We had one about two years ago. It was blown onto a table outside while I was having a drink on a blustery day, clung on for a few minutes to allow me to take a blurred picture, and then flew away at high speed as the wind took it again.

This one was more leisurely.

We’ve had an attack of chintz in the cafe, which is starting to resemble my memories of my grandmother’s front room. Apart from the piles of sugary snacks and the juice drinks, and the notices. Looks like we’re having a turf war again, as all my pizza ingredients and the emergency gluten free bases have all been moved to the ice cream freezer. Apart from the notice banning me from the fridge freezer I’ve had another one ordering me not to move anything round.

I’ve also had to move out of the store cupboard I was using so they could fit an extra table in.

Jonathan Swift wrote: When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.

It does seem that there is a confederacy of dunces ranged against me, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

They have a group of specially invited people coming round on Saturday to test the new look cafe. Now, I’m not a marketing genius but, as I’ve been telling them for a while, the people we need to talk to are the ones that don’t come, or the ones who come once and don’t come back. The friends who come for a chat every Saturday morning are nice people and loyal customers, but their opinions aren’t going to help us appeal to a wider customer base.

Needless to say, I haven’t been invited. It must be something I said…

We’ve had a good showing of Small Tortoiseshells in the last week or so, which is a relief as they seemed to have almost died out. There is a parasitic wasp that attacks them; it arrived from the continent some years ago and in some areas has almost wiped the Small Tortoiseshell out. We’ve also had several pairs of Painted Ladies, some silver Y moths and an upsurge of mint moths.

So far we haven’t had any hummingbird hawk moths this year but they only started to show in late August last year so there is still hope.

500, and the Red Arrows came to mark the day!

Yes, it’s post 500 and I’m feeling a little bit smug. However, the smugness is kept in bounds by the realisation that 500 posts isn’t the same as 500 good posts.

Despite this, it was nice of the Red Arrows to drop by and put a display on for us. The photos aren’t great, but the camera wasn’t very expensive and it’s fine for butterflies and flowers. Seeing as I photograph the Red Arrows about once every 20 years and butterflies nearly every day I think I have the balance about right. I’d hate to spend £1,000 on a camera and then wait 20 years to use its full potential.

In fact, being tight, I’d hate to spend £1,000 on a camera.

The day was the usual mix of heat, work and complaints about working in the heat. We watered polytunnels, collected eggs, made cards, plaited corn dollies from drinking straws (modern stalks are too short) and served a couple of passing walkers with ice creams.

In addition I put poultry up for sale on Preloved, Gumtree and Pets4Home, (for which I don’t get paid) wrote several rude emails (which I resisted the temptation to send) and one which I didn’t. I dealt with Men in Sheds (for which I don’t get paid) and queries about the Agroforestry Project (for which I don’t get paid).

We also had to extract a growling pig from the water trough. She’s developed the habit of inserting herself into the water trough to cool herself down and this is the second time she’s got stuck under the top bar.

She tends to get annoyed that she’s stuck, and even more annoyed when we have to pull her out, hence the growling. I didn’t get paid for that either, but it’s not every day you get to hear a pig growl so I’ll settle for that.

You may see a theme developing here. I am feeling jaded and put upon, a feeling that increases when talking to the ex-farm apprentice, who is now in a new job with a local nursery and thoroughly enjoying himself. He also gets paid for the work he does. I’m jealous.

Then, as the day drew to a close, we had a visit from the Red Arrows.

Walking on history

Today is a bit of a departure from Life of a Care Farm, as I’m feeling in need of a step back from the present day.

We are surrounded by history on the farm. The roundabout at Bingham on the old A46 was the site of the Roman town of Margidunum. When they widened the A46 (or Fosse Way, as it was known to the Romans) many other settlements were found, including Stone and Iron Age sites.

Metal detectorists working on the farm have found many bits and pieces, ranging from spindle weights and bits of Roman brooch through to watch keys and a Royal Engineers cap badge from the Great War period. There are garter buckles, buttons and musket balls too.

As a one-time dealer in antiques (or Collectables or Junk depending on your quality threshold) I’ve seen many things that have been dug up by metal detectorists, including a gold Celtic coin, a mediaeval ring and 11 sovereigns that had obviously been lost as one lot in the 1890s. (I also once had a penny of King Cnut which I bought in a coin collection – the earlies English coin I ever had, and far older than all that second Georgian furniture so beloved by “proper” antique dealers – not that I bear any grudges…

I’ve also seen bits of agricultural equipment, loads of broken Roman brooches and several groups of military cap badges that were obviously lost from military stores during training.

I’ve even dug up some bits myself, including aluminium ring pulls, the ends of shotgun cartridges and a surprising number of horse shoes. The fields of old England must have been full of limping horses. To put it another way, my career as a metal detectorist lasted less than a year and uncovered nothing of interest.

The things I really like are the coins. They are easy(ish) to date and were very personal items, as they were carried in a pocket or purse. At the same time, they are rather sad, as the loss of a penny in the time of hammered coinage could mean the loss of around half a day’s wages.

The history of English coinage is an interesting one, though maybe not to everyone…

However, feel free to read on if you think you can cope with the enthusiasm of a history geek.


Short Cross penny of Henry II – London Mint 1180-89 made by the moneyer Reinald

The English silver penny came about due to an ordinance of King Offa in around 785 AD. They were similar in size to the Anglo-Saxon sceat that had preceded them, and you could make 240 of them from one pound of silver. That will be bringing back memories for some people, who, like me, remember when there were 240 copper pennies to a £1 (and when you could still see the heads of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V and George VI on your small change. Others, who have only ever known 100 pennies to the £1, will be wondering what I am talking about.


They weren’t big on portraits in the early days of coinage, but the production method didn’t really lend itself to quality work. This is  Edward I from a Canterbury Mint penny of 1272-1307. It could, however,  be any one of a number of Kings, or even Shrek

For people wanting half pennies and farthings (think “fourthing” to see where the word comes from) the penny could be cut into halves or quarters (as there weren’t enough smaller coins made) and the cross helped with the cutting.

They were made in many towns in England

Of course, crime has always been with us, and people soon learnt that they could take tiny clippings from coins and build up a collection of silver bits which they could melt down and sell. See here for more details.


Long cross penny of Edward I – Lincoln Mint 1270

In time the “short cross” penny gave way to the “long cross” penny where the cross went from side to side in an effort to stop clipping. It didn’t work and Sir Isaac Newton, as Master of the Royal Mint, introduced a coinage with milled edges that stopped the activities of coin clippers. The legend “Decus et Tutamen” (An Ornament and a Safeguard) was first used on the edge of Newton’s new coins and is still used on some issues of our current pound coin.


Elizabeth I penny . The coin is smaller than the old pennies and the portrait better. If you look to the right of the A at the top of the coin you will see a mint mark To me it looks like a Tower, which means it was made by the Tower of London Mint in 1569-71. IT’s just a coincidence that the mark is a tower, as the Tower mint used all sorts of mark. 

So there you are, a brief and patchy history of English coins, with lots missed out. The photographs are all coins which have been found on the farm. They are all much larger than actual size but it’s so long since I was involved with coins I forgot to measure them or include a scale. Sorry about that.

There’s a You Tube video here. I’ve had a go at hammering coins with this man and it isn’t easy even when you are hammering pewter, which is a lot softer than silver.

Poultry for Sale

I’ve been looking at the poultry with the eye of an accountant.

That sounds like the start of a bad horror film, and for the poultry that could be the case. The first lot are off to Melton market tomorrow and whereas it’s generally considered a pleasant day out for a farmer it’s a step towards the pot for our old hens.

The first time I walked through an empty poultry shed after sending a flock to slaughter I was seventeen years old and not quite the hardened cynic I now am. The loss of the flock I had been tending for the best part of a year did bring a tear to my eye on that occasion, but I’m harder now.

Next up I have 11 fine Polish crosses (as seen in the photos), the birds hatched on 6th June on top of the coop in the barn (yes, the ones I thought were guinea fowl originally). They are currently available for £7 each and you back your own judgement on whether you are getting a pullet or a cockerel. A couple of weeks from now we should be able to tell, and at that point the cocks will be off to Melton and the pullets will be £15 each.

They are looking good, as the photos show, and would make a fine addition to any garden. Buyer collects and please bring your own box. If you are interested email as he’s about more than I am to attend to the sales.

Of the other batches – we still have nine from the second rooftop batch but the chicks in the barn with their mother have been reduced from 6 to 3, presumably by predators. It’s a shame, as they are only feet from safety but if the mother cannot be persuaded into a coop there is a price to be paid.

The ones I hatched, have been reduced by one, as we found one dead when we arrived last Friday. It’s one of the Polish and I wasn’t altogether surprised as the Polish chicks had been showing pasty vents and were not 100% fit. It’s a shame though, as I really wanted to rear the full number, and had become quite attached to them after taking them all the way through the hatching process.

As the Polish eggs didn’t do well in the incubator, and the chicks weren’t great I’m wondering if the Polish adults need to take a trip to market too.

Seriously, if you do want any poultry for the garden, do get in touch as we are having to move some birds on to balance the flock. We will probably keep the blue egg layers and the ones in the yard (if they survive) but the Polish crosses and pure breeds will all be up for sale.



Like eating soup with a fork…

After an active morning, with a lot of poultry work and watering, we had lunch and settled down to some serious outdoor education with a trek in the woods and the making of nature memory sticks. I would say “and picking blackberries” but someone has got there before us, for the second year in a row. The sticks are on willow, but despite repeated soaking most of them stayed defiantly unbent.

Here are the results. They look pretty good in real life, though possibly not quite so good in the photos. The sticks, that is. The group, of course, when faced with a camera look shifty, bored or anywhere but the camera. That’s what suggested the title. I’ve just deleted about half the group shots because people moved, looked away, closed their eyes or opened their mouths unsuitably wide. The surviving shots then needed weeding for ones where they have greenery sprouting from unexpected places.

As you can see, it wasn’t the most successful of group portraits – long on character but short on technical skill is a kind way of putting it.

Part of it was my fault, I suppose, as I kept asking for different sorts of cheese to encourage them to pay attention. It may not have worked, as shouts of “Boursin!” and a discussion on paneer proved not to be advantageous to the job in hand.  So, by the miracle of coincidence and cheap digital photography,  here are some pictures.


The Nottingham Oilfield

Yes, that’s right – we had an oilfield. We haven’t had one for a while, of course, but I can distinctly remember seeing the nodding donkeys in fields as we drove past in the 1960s. They’ve been looking at starting up again but I’m not sure what’s happening about that.

It was all based at Duke’s Wood, a quiet patch of woodland near the village of Eakring. Apart from the oilfield museum (which was shut when I visited), the wood is a nature reserve, though there wasn’t a lot of wildlife about on a blustery Sunday morning.

I managed an unimpressive  picture of a Meadow Brown, a dragonfly (possibly a Brown Hawker but it was a bit too quick for me), a couple of those white moths in the grass and a frog (which was dead, and thus slow enough for me to photograph).

There are several nodding donkeys in the woods and a statue and plaque in memory of the American oilmen who came across to help during the war. It produced 3.5 million barrels of oil during the war, which was handy, as it couldn’t be sunk by U Boats.

The oilmen were billeted with the monks at Kelham Hall, and one of them, Herman Douthit, fell from a derrick and was killed.





I’m sure, that being persons of distinction and discernment, my readers will be familiar with Mt Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias“, a poem about the fall of great men and the end of empires. And sand.

However, how about this one by Mr Horace Smith. The title is not quite so snappy and it may be that the language is not quite so eloquent, nor does it feature quite so much sand, but I quite like it, and actually find it quite refreshing. However, it was written as part of a friendly competition between the two men and, let’s face it, the Shelley poem won, despite my feelings on the matter.


In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desart knows: –
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” – The City’s gone, –
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,- and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Things are a little fraught at the moment and sometimes it’s good to read a poem to remind yourself that things have always been bad for someone. A trouble shared is, after all, a thing of beauty and there is nothing like seeing someone else in trouble to cheer yourself up.


The Green Cathedral

We visited an orchard yesterday with Men in Sheds and Byron the farm apprentice.

I’d been told that we would be visiting a Permaculture project but, once more, I discovered that the farmer isn’t quite clear on what Permaculture is.  There were no ponds, no zones and no ducks. There were, however,  bees, bullfinches and a feeling of peace so it was still well worth a visit. This was particulalrly true of the more mature, less intensive end of the field, where arching trees and unmown wild flower meadow provided an experience like being in a green cathedral.

It may not be permaculture, and it’s not even organic, but it is run with a feeling for nature. Despite some clear ill-feeling on the matter of Bullfinches the owner was still able to tell us he had seen a group of them using the bird baths he provides. There’s one variety of pear tree, and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten which one, where the bullfinches don’t just eat the fruit buds but actually cripple the tree by taking the leaf buds too.

I forgot most of what I was told about the number of varieties he grows – though I did manage to photograph a list of 33 gooseberries. (He actually claims to have around 60 varieties of gooseberry in all) There are 17 varieties of cherry. He also has blackcurrants, redcurrants, white currants and pink currants, plus apples, pears, fourteen sorts of fig and a medlar. That’s just the stuff I can remember.

This is a picture of a plum tree with Plum Pox Virus (or Sharka virus if you want a more interesting name for it). I hadn’t heard of it until the visit. Treatment is to take the tree out and destroy it.


Incubator Diaries (Part 7)

This is the final report.

We hatched seven chicks from fifteen eggs and, although I’m very pleased with the seven chicks that hatched,  I’m not very happy about the overall result.

Of the eight that didn’t hatch, three (the two brown eggs and one bantam egg) were infertile. The brown egg layers are all old birds, which might be a factor, but they share a cockerel with the hen that laid the green eggs (all three of them hatched) and were collected clean and fresh so I had expected better.

The other five were all  bantam eggs and come from just one hen. The infertile egg may well have been caused by the fact we had to store the eggs for two weeks to get enough to hatch. I should have marked that laying dates on the eggs so I could check the correlation with hatchability.

The ones that didn’t hatch were a mixture of mid to late term fatalities and were rather black inside.

Looking at all the possible causes I think we can ignore temperature, humidity, power failure and poor turning as they are all taken care of automatically (though I will test the temperature next time I set it up to check the accuracy of the built-in thermometer). They are on a good ration so I’m going to ignore poor nutrition for now.

That leaves inbreeding, poor ventilation, diseased or infected eggs and lethal genes.

I know what a lethal gene is, but I haven’t a clue how it would show itself.

I can’t vouch for ventilation – I will probably ventilate more in the next attempt and see what happens.

However, as the weight loss from evaporation was what we expected I’m assuming that humidity  and ventilation were about right.

In truth, I can’t remember the parentage of the breeding stock, as they were passed on to us without much detail. The  bird that laid and hatched the clutches of 11 and 8 on top of the coop is a half sister to the bird that laid these eggs but the “half” may make a difference.

That leaves diseased/infected eggs, which was my fear from the beginning. Our nest boxes aren’t brilliant so there is often dirt on the shells, which can allow germs into the egg via pores in the shell. That, plus the length of time we had to keep the eggs, is probably the cause.

I’m going to do some calculations now and see what I can do to improve.