A little twitching, a committee meeting and a bit more of the sharp end of smallholding
Even living in The Fens, it's not every day I open the curtains and find myself face to face with a barn owl. In one way or another, birds were certainly the theme of the day.
It started with a trip further up into Lincolnshire where a White-billed Diver had taken up temporary residence on the River Witham near Woodhall Spa. By rights it should be plying its trade in the Arctic seas, so how it had quite got itself here is a mystery. But it was a huge and uncanny coincidence, for the most famous previous inland record was on the very same stretch of river 21 years ago.
The diver had been commuting up and down a 5 mile stretch of river with just a few access points, so it was just a case of picking a starting point and walking. I thought that if I waited till the weekend I would get more up to date news and save my legs a little. I also had a plan to drag Sue and the dogs along for a nice long walk in a new place. And so we parked up at the old Stixwould Station, where the bird had drifted past earlier in the morning, and started walking south... and south... and south until eventually we caught up with the bird and the crowd of birders just a couple of hundred yards north of Kirkstead bridge, where we could have parked! If only one of the fifty or so birders there had bothered to broadcast its whereabouts.
Never mind. We enjoyed great views of a rarely seen bird and I bumped into some old birding friends along the way. I was slightly disappointed that Boris and Arthur seemed to take little interest in the bird, though better that than they jump in the water after it!
But they had a most exciting walk, with new smells everywhere and quite a few doggy encounters. They were slightly confused by the metal sheep they met along the way though.
This was the longest walk Arthur's little legs had ever been on and he slept all the way home.
Sue and I on the other hand headed off to Upwell for the Fenland Smallholders Club AGM. I have to admit, this is hardly the highlight of my year. Unfortunately, although club membership is doing pretty well, getting people involved is becoming increasingly difficult. Anyway, there were just enough people to coerce into filling the spare spaces on the committee. I myself have come off the committee as I find committees exceedingly frustrating and the FSC is certainly no exception. Democracy seems to favour talkers and not doers. I do however continue to do plenty to help out as the club is well worth supporting.
When we got home the barn owl was still in the tree though slightly more alert. It soon headed off to hunt along the dyke and over the veg patch.
It may be getting dark now, but a long and eventful day was certainly not finished. There were two sheep to be loaded into the trailer... don't ask where they were going!
Loading up went very smoothly. These were the two commercial sheep which we had brought in to fatten up. Their departure would be quite welcome as they had stayed a little longer than expected and sheep food does not grow free in the winter months.
With that operation successfully completed, it was into the kitchen to gut and prep the birds which we had dispatched the other day - a turkey, a goose and a cockerel which had been hanging (colloquially and then literally!) in the stables.
No pictures, you'll be glad to hear.
And that was that. An end to a very eventful and varied day.
29th January 2017
A very early start to drop the sheep off at the abattoir. We like to get there early - it saves waiting in a queue and means we can be back on the farm by 8.
We usually have to wait for Dave and his son to arrive in the Land Rover, but today the gates were already open. We were greeted by two new faces, though I recognised one of them as the butcher who had helped me load Daisy into the back of the car a couple of years back (for those new to the blog, Daisy used to be our breeding sow.)
I presumed that Dave was on holiday, but then received the shocking news that he had moved on - not in a bad way, but to new ventures. I liked Dave. He was straightforward. He would stand back and let you struggle to get your animals out of the trailer (particularly pigs) but would step in if really needed and proceed to make it look ridiculously easy. He had a way of just tickling the pigs or sheep off the trailer, down the ramp and into their new temporary pen.
It'll probably be another forty or so years before I can call myself an established fen-dweller, but I don't like change as much as I used to, so I am on my way!!!
I just hope al the abattoir arrangements stay the same, as we have become rather efficient at it now.
Now I don't like to moan (no, really, I don't), but I coughed and spluttered my way through most of last night and really am not on top form at the moment so I decided to spend the rest of the day indoors. A day in a warm kitchen would surely help matters, so I set about baking and cooking.
Even kneading the bread felt like hard work, but I knocked up a good dough for my multigrain bread.
While I left it to rise, I started on a Lardy Cake. This is one of my favourite recipes, full of fruit and the lard is a permissible sin.
More kneading and rolling, more waiting to rise, so a quick Leek and Potato soup was on the cards. Leeks are a brilliant crop, for they come good when not much else is around and they stand outside whatever the weather. And while that was boiling up, I put the old cockerel in to a large stock pot to boil up for a few hours.
Come the evening I had to try to keep myself lively as we had been invited over to the new neighbours for dinner. It was fascinating to find out more about them and their plans for their cottage and land. The food went down well too. Beef. One of the few meats we don't produce on the smallholding.
I managed not to fall to sleep (not the company, the man flu).
30th January 2017
I needed to take care of myself today so I didn't get up till nearly 11! After that I took it easy.
I picked the meat off the bones of the old cockerel and turned him into a most nutritious chicken broth with potato and pearl barley.
And then something more adventurous. Jerusalem artichokes are a bit of a novelty crop and I grow them as much for a windbreak and for an attractive patch of dense greenery as for the harvest of their roots. But during the winter the roots are always there in the ground should I fancy something slightly more unusual in my diet.
I had found a recipe for Zesty Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke Salad which used blood oranges which just happen to be available at the moment. It wasn't my usual sort of recipe but would make a change from Artichoke Soup. As it turned out, artichokes roasted and glazed with blood oranges, then mixed with watercress and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs and goats cheese, well it turned out to be rather tasty. Sue loved it. I made just one change to the recipe, incorporating thin slices of raw artichoke root, for this adds a fresh crunchy texture similar to water chestnuts.
31st January 2017
Yes. That's right. I stared bleary-eyed out of the kitchen window to see THIRTEEN magpies in a bush. Now that can't be lucky.
Still struggling against man flu, I decided that a blast of South Lincolnshire's icy wind might do the trick today, so I took Boris and Arthur to see a Great Grey Shrike and a Great White Egret nearby but they didn't even look. They did introduce themselves to a few local twitchers though.
This was along the banks of the River Welland which flows through Spalding and out to The Wash. I discovered today that I can follow the country lanes from my house and they lead me to what is known as Deeping High Bank, the East side of the river.
Back at home and the postie brought me a delivery of seeds for this year's crops. The growing season really is almost upon us. Exciting times.