Thursday, 19 May 2016

Rhubarb, Broodies, Basket-making and Twitching... and more

7th May

Rhubarb. Rhubarb. Rhubarb.... Today Sue picked 14kg of Rhubarb and set about turning it into leather, ice-cream and stewed rhubarb. The rest she froze. Rhubarb is another of those crops which is ridiculously easy to grow but ridiculously expensive to buy. If you ignore the freezer, it is highly seasonal, which makes it special when it comes around each year.

While Sue was doing that, I was undertaking a bit of DIY.
Every time a hen goes broody we have been putting eggs under her, either Ixworth chicken eggs (for meat birds eventually) or Muscovy ducks (again for meat).
The trouble is that we are running out of homes to place the young families. With this in mind I responded to a Facebook advert for a broody box - basically a small hen house with a simple run. When I went to collect it, I was able to get two at a discount price.
However, they weren't wonderfully built. But they did give me a useful starting point and I spend today pretty much dismantling and reassembling them, adding small design features to make them more functional.

As with all jobs, this took longer than expected, but I was pretty happy with the end result. As one of our hens hadn't moved out of the chicken house for two days, we immediately moved her into one of the nest boxes on top of ten Ixworth eggs and closed the door to allow her to settle down.

I then embarked on another job, to weed and rotavate the flower beds in preparation for sowing the annual mixes. I knew that a few nettles had crept in over winter, but as long as these don't establish a deep root system they are easily pulled out. What I hadn't bargained for was the encroachment of creeping buttercups. These have a compact root system which clings onto the soil with a vice-like grip, meaning they have to be individually dug up. A couple of hours later or more I was eventualy finished. It had turned into a very physical job but I'm sure it will be worth it when the beds are a riot of colour.

Other things that happened today, in no particular order:

Another day of hot weather and the strawberries will be ready.
Time to plant up the shop-bought
lemon grass. The roots have developed nicely.
Basket making homework
before our session tomorrow
Growing early mangetout in the poltunnel is paying handsome dividends
8th May

The day started very early as I aimed to be at Gibraltar Point (near Skegness) by sunrise to see an Alpine Accentor. These birds are very rare in Britain and the only one I've seen here was over ten years ago. So with news the evening before of one poking about on a feeder just an hour's drive away, I set the alarm for early. Unfortunately the bird didn't play ball, vanishing overnight, but it was good to see so many of my birding friends there.
The day warmed up nicely and by the time I rolled up back on the farm the temperature had soared into the high 20's (high 70s for the oldies out there)

I couldn't hang around though, for I was due back at the Green Backyard in Peterborough for the second of my basket-making sessions. Everyone was impressed with my homework and I continued weaving until I was ready to put a rim on. An unexpected bonus was a handle - I had presumed it would be too complicated.
I also got to bring home quite a few long willow cuttings so that I can grow more of my own basketry willow. I've put them in the water butt with the other willows which have well and truly rooted. The hormones from the others should help my new ones to root.

There was still time at the end of the day to get most of the lawns mowed... again. A brief rest to chat to our neighbour Don was interrupted when we spotted a Short-eared Owl quartering the farm. Don told me that he had seen two together recently. It is getting late in the year for them to be migrating, so with a bit of luck they will become a regular sight.

That wasn't it for wildlife today. For when I let the dogs out just before their bedtime, there just outside the patio door was a spiky visitor. The dogs just sniffed at it and wandered off. It's only the second hedgehog I've seen on the farm. The first was caught in a rabbit trap (and safely released) last year.

9th May
At midnight last night I picked up reports of a pelican in Cornwall. It had initially been identified as a White Pelican, a sure escape so of no particular interest to the twitching fraternity. But the midnight message had a photo of a Dalmatian Pelican - a potential wild vagrant to this country. It had been seen in three different places on the sea. I resisted the temptation to head down overnight. A seven hour drive for a bird which could be anywhere off Cornwall is the sort of crazy manoeuvre I used to pull but I now take a (slightly) more balanced approach.

I awoke late with a very thick head. Pager news. The pelican just flew over Lands End! All that stopped me going was the thick head. I went out into the veg plot and tried to forget about the pelican. It was another very hot day. I had planned to sow seeds ahead of forecast rain, but the soil was very dry and lumpy so I decided to delay. Everything needed water so I set about the task of topping up all the poultry drinkers, duck pools, sheep buckets... when... the pager started wailing. That PELICAN. Some great detective work had identified it as the same bird which had been in Poland the previous month. This bird certainly hadn't just hopped out of some Cornish zoo. Should I go now? I wouldn't arrive till late in the day and the bird hadn't exactly been pinned down to one place. I reluctantly decided to stay put, but changed my plans for the rest of the day. Nothing too strenuous, for an overnight drive to Cornwall was surely in the offing.

I carried on with the watering, giving everything in the polytunnel a good drenching as it might be a couple of days before it got watered again.

Sometime during the afternoon I looked in on Elvis, for this was the first due date for the eggs she had been sitting on, and this is what I saw.

Yes. I know it's got a strange bill for a chicken. Elvis has been sitting on Muscovy duck eggs! It's not the first time she has hatched out ducklings and she doesn't seen quite so surprised this time.

At 8 in the evening I headed off to Sandy, Bedfordshire, to pick up a birding friend before embarking on the trip to Cornwall...

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