Archive for the ‘Diary Post’ Category

Village Cider Collective 2010

Today we made cider.

Cider - before and after

The village cider collective met for its second year to turn surplus apples into cider – a simple process involving a garden shredder, a large apple press and a few hours of fairly enjoyable labour.

Cider production in full swing

We didn’t have as many apples as last year, but we’re going for quality rather than quantity.

Apples ready for cider

We ended up with a little over 11 gallons of fresh juice.  We drink some of it fresh, which leaves 10 gallons slowly fermenting under my dining room table.

The final apple - cleaving the bum-shaped fruit

I admit, it would be much easier to just buy a crate of cider from the supermarket.  But that’s not the point of the collective.  It’s a way of getting together with the neighbours, making use of local fruit that would otherwise rot and be wasted, and it’s very satisfying to drink something that you’ve made from scratch.  If you’ve got apples, link up with your own neighbours and get brewing too!

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Holidays in the Sun

What made these tracks on the beach

Question: what made these tracks on the beach?

I’ve just got back from holiday, which explains why things have been a bit quiet on here lately.

We’ve been up in Anglesey, North Wales.  A beautiful part of the world, and we had beautiful weather to go with it.  We’ve been sitting on the beach in the sunshine, introducing Scarlett to the pleasures of making sandcastles (great fun) and paddling in the sea (a bit too chilly!)

I confess that I haven’t done much from a wildlife perspective.  I spent the days with the family and the nights fishing.  I don’t go fishing very often these days, so this was a treat for me – or at least it was until I became increasingly obsessed in my hunt for the fish.  At least I’ve got it out of my system for a while.

Beach Tracks

Answer: a one year-old with the urge to explore

I spent a very enjoyable day with a friend of mine who was carrying out a 3d laser scan of an ancient monument in the area.  The neolithic burial chamber of Barclodiad-y-Gawres dates back 5,000 years or so.  Although there are many similar prehistoric monuments on Anglesey, Barclodiad-y-Gawres is almost unique because of its decorated stones.  To protect these from vandalism, a concrete dome has been built over the site and entrance is highly restricted.  My friend was creating a full scan of the site, accurate to millimetres, to create a full virtual model of the monument.  This was being filmed for the TV series Hidden Histories, so watch out for that on the BBC later this year.  My role on the day was to carry the tripods, act as a general assistant and swap theories with the various archaeologists present.

Laser scanning at Barclodiad y Gawres

Does this have anything to do with wildlife?  Well, maybe a little.  For a start, we were accompanied on the day by a pair of choughs.  These delightful little crows are still rare, but they seem to be expanding along the sea cliffs of Anglesey.  It was the first time I’d seen them in this spot, anyway.

A second wildlife connection came from Barclodiad-y-Gawres itself.  The tomb is famous because the archaeologists who excavated the site found a collection of small bones from, among other things, wrasse, whiting, eel, grass snake, frog, toad and mouse.  They interpreted this as the remains of a strange ‘ritual stew’ that the stone age builders had made.

Filming for the BBC Hidden Histories programme

Filming for the BBC Hidden Histories programme

Personally, I don’t believe this.  I think that the bones were much more likely to have come from the dung (‘spraint’) of an otter.  I’ll write up my theory and the evidence for it in a proper paper one day.  It’s ironic really.  I was talking to some of the leading archaeologists in the field, and I managed to steer the conversation round to animal poo.

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I’ve spent the weekend without a car.

I’d love to be able to say that this was deliberate and part of a return to a more sustainable way of life (in the manner of John from Musings of Murphyfish).  Unfortunately it wasn’t.  It was because the engine of my (admittedly elderly) car blew up on Friday.  I was driving home from Birmingham on the motorway when the crankshaft failed, with the end result that the engine welded itself into a lump of metal with smoke coming out of it.

So it goes.  I spent the weekend looking for a new car.  Mrs BWM feels that it is time for me to get a motor that reflects my smart executive status.  She also insisted – quite rightly – that I get a car with a heater.  My last car didn’t have this luxury feature and it caused some hardship during the winter.  As for me, the only requirement I have for a car is that I can fit a bale of hay into the boot!

Now, part of my philosophy as a (very) amateur naturalist is that I study the wildlife within walking distance of my house.  In that respect, not having a car shouldn’t have held me back.  However, the search for the perfect heated/executive/agricultural vehicle kept me preoccupied for the weekend and so I’ve had no time to get outdoors.

I’ll do better in the future, I promise.

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RedcurrantsToday we picked our redcurrants.  Last year we went away for a weekend and came back to find that the birds had eaten every last one of them – little sods.  This year we netted them against the birds and got a bumper crop (although the local blackbird was circling us like a hungry shark even as we were picking).  Redcurrants are beautiful to look at as well as to eat – a lovely, translucent red; and for the small amount of space and effort they need we get a great return of fruit from our three bushes.

In total we got just over 7lbs with enough left on the bushes to keep the birds happy.   Time to find a recipe for redcurrant jelly…

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Scarlett and I decided to give our regular Sunday walk a miss today because of the torrential rain.  For the last two days it has rained heavily, and this morning it was still pouring down.  Even with my umbrella there was no way I could take a baby out in this.

I did manage a quick stroll outside in the afternoon (on my own) to see what was happening.  Our part of Bedfordshire is known as the Greensand Ridge – it is high ground and generally sandy and well drained, with patches of clay.  I’ve never seen much flooding here before, but today there was a lot.  The ditches in the village, normally dry with a little mud in the bottom, were full to the top and overflowing the road in places. Our little brook was running to the top of its banks in many places.  Many fields were turned into lakes by the sheer volume of rainwater.  Some even had resident ducks on them.

It was generally a good day for sitting inside, drinking tea  and watching the goldfinches on the bird feeder.  I feel a little guilty for not getting outside more, but there’ll be plenty more chances now that spring is getting closer.

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I’ve been writing this blog for a little over a year, and I enjoy it a lot.  It started out as a way to record wildlife observations (it’s a good thing to do but I’m terribly undisciplined at keeping paper notes) as well as way to prove to my wife that I’m not up to mischief when I sneak out of the house in the evening carrying a camouflage jacket and a pair of binoculars.

The thing about a blog, though, is that it gathers its own momentum.  I feel duty bound to write things that are interesting because people like you, gentle reader, are willing to give up your time reading them.  I want to make it worthwhile for you.

Sometimes though, a diary is just a diary.  Sometimes I have to make a note of an important date or event so that I’ll be able to go back and check it later.  Most of the time I try to sneak these little facts into the posts so that you don’t notice, but sometimes I’ve just got to come out and tell it like it is.  This is one of those occasions.

Yesterday, on the 29th June, we started picking the raspberries.  We should have enough for a jar or two of jam.  The cherries on the tree in the chickens’ enclosure are almost (but not quite) ripe, and the blackcurrants will be ready for picking at the weekend too.  Mind you, we’ve had some very hot weather so that may have speeded things up a little this year.

There you go.  It may not mean much to you, but it is important for me that I record this.  I’m sure you understand.

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Today, one of my chickens laid the first egg of the new year.

Happy free-range chickens

Happy free-range chickens

What has this to do with badgers, you ask?  Absolutely nothing.  But this is my diary after all, and this is a date I want to keep track of, so here it is for posterity.

For the curious, chickens stop laying in winter and resume in spring.  The mechanism for this is controlled by daylight, rather than temperature, so if you want eggs all year round you need to put a light in the chicken shed.  I’m not too bothered about intensive egg production, so I just leave my girls to get on with it the natural way.

Since we got the chickens almost two years ago I have refused to buy eggs from a shop.  We’ve got used to proper free-range eggs fresh from the garden, and the shop-bought ones are terrible, insipid things by comparison.  Hence I’m recording the date so that I know when I can expect to resume my Sunday morning fried breakfasts next year.

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