Mid Summer 2018

I can’t believe it is nearly mid summer. Such a cold late start to spring and then straight into a glorious baking sun in late spring, we now found ourselves in mid June and the normal Welsh cloudy drizzle. But hey, it’s warm and everything is growing well. We had the first mass harvest last week, with lots of crops coming ready now. We have peas, broad beans, salad, spinach, chard, beetroot, rhubarb, strawberries and lots of herbs. The first courgettes are ready now too. We have green tomatoes that just need some sun to ripen them, and flowers on the peppers. I love this time of year, pay back for all the hard work. The flower garden is cropping well too. The season moves on fast Irises and Alliums have come and gone, but quick to replace them are Scabious and Sweet Williams. Cornflowers in the polytunnel are still doing well, but the ones outside have not come to anything (I think it was too hot and dry when i sowed them), must sow some more soon.

Elderflower season is here and we are making large quantities of Elderflower cordial this year.

Bottle will be sold on the Llanidloes Saturday market and in Great Oak Foods, also @ Cultivate shop Newtown.

Next is Strawberry Jam making.

 

The weather is looking to turn hot and sunny again for Mid Summers longest day this Friday and to continue for at least a week. So it could be the time to cut our hay.

We have been busy this month finishing off planting all the summer crops in the field and building a shower wash room for all the summer volunteers. It is progressing slowly, but it has begun (photos to follow).

 

We took a lovely walk over the other side of the valley to small the Laburnum that grows there and we got a lovely view back over our plot.

 

May Open Day

Open day this Sunday 20th May.

As part of the vegetarian week celebrations we are opening the land for The Big Farm Picnic (on a small farm).

The event is a chance for people to see where and how crops are grown or just enjoy sitting around soaking up the sun and countryside.

It is bring and share picnic lunch and we will have drinks and cake for sale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roll on Spring ’18

Wow, what a winter. Will it ever end. Stop, start spring, inter-laced with thick snow and the harshest of winds. Can we cope with any more, and can the plants and wildlife.

Today has been beautiful…blue skies, sunshine, warmth, and bird song. All the motivation to get out in the garden. But we are forecast more snow to come.

It has been a hard winter and we are very grateful we no longer have large livestock to care for. The poultry are not too much hassle, with automatic doors and feeders we only need a once a day inspection. Unfortunately the prolonged winter has done it for our bees, that is very sad; I had only checked them a couple of weeks before and they had plenty of food. This is the third time now that we have lost our bees in march. I am now doubting our bee keeping abilities.

Despite the weather the flowers are still opening up their throats to sing in the spring. I was asked to make a spring bouquet for a 70th birthday gift. A little early i thought, but it is amazing what is growing when you start to look. I bought in some roses and carnations, but everything else was in season Welsh and plenty of scent. A very happy customer got their wow factor.

 

Not been getting a lot done on the land, and very behind with the planting now. The hot box has been made in the polytunnel and has a few seedlings coming. Unfortunately the day i moved seedlings from the heated propagators at the house to the field hot box the temperature dropped to -5C. So I lost nearly all the cucumbers and lots of tomatoes. Normally i would be getting stressed by my lack of seedlings and worrying about plant sales and lateness of my summer cropping, but this year i am just letting it go (i am sure it will hit me later, when i have a lack of crops).

I have a dream of a greenhouse at the field, it will regulate the heat much better than a polytunnel. I found a bargain secondhand large glasshouse, but the same week the clutch on Dave van went, and my car got ill again. Can i really justify the expense on such a luxury? No i can’t, not on a grow your own income, not this month. I have now found a much smaller one, and i will always slightly regret not going for the giant. I can still have all the propagation in one place, but will still be fighting with enough space. Hurrah, No need to transport early seedlings around from house to polytunnel. We have also got the second polytunnel still waiting to go up, but i am a lot more realistic these days about how much energy we have to get these jobs done. I am not holding my breath on it coming together anytime soon.

Over winter, we have managed to get our house sorted; de-cluttered (removal of kids stuff from years past, and dead electronics). We can now up grade the b’n'b, and long term guest moved in last week. So we can now concentrate our energy back on the land.

Roll on long evenings and more sun

 

Farm update for winter 17-18.

Well, where to start… I haven’t been very good at keeping the blog posts updated over the last year or so. But I do post pictures on Facebook quite regularly, so follow us there. So what of winter 2017 into 2018…Mud, muck, wood, stone, pigs, pork, fat, snow and more mud.

The latest news is the vegetarian pig farmers have called it a day. It was lovely to have livestock on the farm, and as animal lovers it was great to spend time with such intelligent animals. But, we are firstly horticulturalist and we never set out to keep livestock. As accidental pork producers we found after a few years of practice we became quite good at keeping happy pigs. We developed a good outdoor breed and systems of rotating them onto fresh land each week.

We have about 70 customers, many of whom were vegetarian families that appreciated eating only the occasional meal of healthy happy meat. But for us it was a lot of work that tied us to visiting the land morning and evening every day, whatever the weather (we don’t live on site). So, 7 pigs went in December and the last 8 went in January. We immediately grabbed the opportunity to escape for a couple of weeks holiday before the pork was ready to collect from the butchers.

We have spent the last 2 days sorting and delivering the orders and fitting the rest of the pork into our freezers. Today i have been rendering the fat to making lard. This is something i couldn’t have done a few years back, but i have learnt to detach myself from them as animals and deal with the product as food. I have learnt a lot about healthy fats and dismissed much of what we were bought up to believe. In actual fact lard is not bad for you or more fattening.

Lard is a great fat to cook with as it heats to a much higher temperature and is more stable (unlike fashionable olive oil). Meat and fat from pasture fed, free ranging animals is is so different than from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It is higher in conjugated lineolic acid (CLA) which is good for you in so many ways  (it may be one of our most potent defences against cancer). Pasture fed fat is lower in the bad saturated fat, it has 2-4 time more omega 3 fatty acids,  more concentrated with antioxidants such as vitamins E, C and beta-carotene, along with increased levels of other disease-fighting substances.

At the end of the day you are what you eat – and the same goes for the animals whose meat, milk and eggs you put in your mouth. We should not only be concerned about what we eat, but what our food eats as well.

Rendering fat to make lard… There are different ways to render the fat, i find the simplest is just to put it in a deep tray in the oven at a low heat 140C. Great if you have a Rayburn that is ticking away. If you cut the fat into small pieces the fat turns to liquid quicker and gives you small bits of crackling. This photo shows the different stages, from slabs of fat, cut into small pieces, slowly heated in the oven, giving liquid fat and bits of crackling.

I start with slabs of clean pork fat, i have to request this back from the butcher, otherwise they trim it off and throw it away. I usually bag this up and freeze it to feed to the chickens and wild birds through the winter. This time there is no room in our freezers, so i have had to process it to keep it. Once rendered and made into lard it should keep for a year in the fridge or longer if frozen.  I take the trays of fat out of the oven every hour or so and strain off the fat, then put it back in for longer.

As the fat becomes more brown so does the liquid, so the first batch looks cleaner and will have less pork taste (better for using in cake and pastries). The liquid fat is yellow like a vegetable oil and as it cools it turns white and hard. You can see in this picture the cold bottom layer of fat is already hardened to white and the fresh on top still yellow. Now i have quite a mass of lard, i would like to use some of this to make soap. Our good friends Phil and Lauren gave us some soap they had made from animal fat, for Christmas and it is lovely to use, very moisturising and bubbly.

Who would have thought all of this from a pair of strict vegetarians of 30 years. Well these days, for me, it is more about self sufficiency and minimal impact on the planet.

So what else have we been up to. In Autumn we took the delivery of a new caravan for woofers, this time we built a roof over it straight away to protect it from the weather and give a nice dry entrance. I am sure it will develop over time to become a dry cloakroom entrance space, perhaps some sides and a seat or two. This roof space will also gather, much needed, rain water for the nursery plants. Have just added another IBC, giving another 1000lts of water collection potential.

The mud at the field this last Autumn has been unbearable. We did a lot of tractor work during the year, which compresses and churns up the ground and there has been so much rain. We did an acre of potatoes which were harvested in October and had to be moved to the entrance by tractor. But the ground was so wet by then we were left with sloppy mud all over the site. We couldn’t get in and out of the field without putting on full overalls and wellies, something had to be done. So we got a mini digger to scrape all the mud from the entrance and re-dress it with local stone from a neighbouring farm. We then gave the old entrance shelter new cladding so it is now weather proof. We got some lovely wavy edged local larch and it is looking fantastic. We can now stay clean from our car to the shed to change into work clothes out of the rain and mud. So much more civilised and enjoyable.

The field of potatoes was not so much fun and we probably will not do it again. This was our second attempt at an acre and both times we have ended up digging most of them by hand. This is why we originally got pigs five years ago, to clear the ground after the potato crop. Probably a great crop to grow in a drier climate, but here in Wales the Autumn rains come too early. Yet again the harvester couldn’t cope with the wet ground. After harvesting a third of the crop it rained all night and on and off till now, so the tractor couldn’t get the harvester through the crop.

Thankfully we had the help of two very keen woofers and the four of us spent three hours a day digging potatoes for the best part of October. At the end of all that work we had 18 dumpy bags of very muddy rather scabby potatoes, they were eventually collected and once dry only weighed in at 4 tons. These spuds were grown as seed potatoes and unfortunately only 1.5 ton passed inspection. So much for feeding the world….

We have had lots of snow this winter, and i hear there is more to come. We live a couple of miles from the land, not far really, until we have to battle through foot deep snow to feed and water animals and scrape the snow off the polytunnel. It is seriously hard going, but also extremely beautiful. My son Joe accompanied me one day, and we had fun snow boarding and making a snow man to welcome visitors to the farm.

So what for the coming spring….

We have just had delivered 18 ton of muck, i have collected 3/4 ton of organic potting compost. I have just had this years seed order delivered, including 25kg of onion sets, and lots of different squash and pumpkin seed. So we are going to be busy over the next six weeks. Firstly getting the hot bed going in the polytunnel ready for propagating seedlings for sale and planting. Then planting out our acre field where the potatoes were last year with bulk crops of onions, peas, beans and leeks (squash to go in later). The raised veg beds need mucking and preparing for the high maintenance crops. Only 25kg of potatoes going in this year, mainly to be planted and dug up early, a reliable waxy variety ’Charlotte’. A new polytunnel to go up and the barn needs some major repair work. Not to mention a whole heap of machine repairs and maintenance that i will leave to Dave to think about. Roll on the longer days and some dry weather.

Thanks to Ohara and Helen for this lovely bit of artwork for the field.

Summer Open Day 30th July

The last couple of months we have been busy tidying up the site ready for our first open day. We have been on the site for 5 years now and structures and systems are coming together. We have had some fantastic weather and great wwoofers to help us, but also many weeks to enjoy working on the land on our own. Join us on Sunday 30th July for a tour of the site and to taste some of our produce.

Then:

and now:

Mid summer has come and gone, and it has been glorious. Baking hot days perfect for seaside holidays, ice-cream and beer, but no chance of that with a market garden to keep on top of. All that said, during the heat wave we did convert to a continental time table of working outside early and knocking off at lunchtime for bathing in the river Severn, returning to the land to do a few hours in the evening.

It really has been lovely, but we were nearly out of water at the beginning of May,  by the end of May all the water butts were dry and plants were starting to suffer from the lack of water. So our 10,000 litres of water is not enough.

Brian our keen local volunteer has been on the case working out water collection solutions. We now have another 1,500 litre water butt collecting from the static and have extended the roof on the toilet shed to gain more area to collect from. The pig holding pen has been lined with an old pond liner to make a temporary water tank, this is surprisingly big and if we ever get some substantial rain it will make a good reserve. We have been working on doubling the size of the wood shed, both for storage area and more surface area to collect rain.

The solar shower bags have been much more effective in the hot weather and it has got me thinking of a how install a proper working solar shower. Might even put it in it’s own building with privacy. A job for later in the year, when the growing season slows down.

The glut season has arrived. With the sunny weather in June ripening the Strawberries early. Whilst it was sunny we were harvesting 3kg a day, but with the rain there has been much less. The strawberry season was short this year, but we have eaten our fill. I have made 6kg jam and de-hydrated about 10kg. We sell in Great Oak foods Llanidloes and Cultivate in Newtown, but have been encouraging people to come and pick their own.  We have now moved onto raspberries and current season.

It is full on harvest season now,  harvesting a wide variety of produce. To add to all the green leafy stuff we have all year, we now have broad beans, French beans, mangetout, peas, new potatoes and the first of the courgettes, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Flower season is in full bounty. During June and July i have been attending Llanidloes Charter Market each Saturday. I am not making enough money to warrant being there, but it is good to be out talking to people and advertising what we are doing. I am going to continue going each week for the summer and see how it goes. To go with the fresh flowers i have been drying petals for confetti and culinary herbs for sale, the house smells amazing. I have been busy making elderflower cordial and jams and these are available on the stall each week.

We are growing an acre of potatoes this year, not for eating, but to sell as seed to other growers. It is Axona, a fantastic blight resistant variety that has been bred in Wales for Organic low input growing, which we are keen to promote. We got the ground prepared in the good weather, ploughed and disc harrowed then planted, they have been ridged up twice to give a weed free plot. As these are to be sold as seed they have to be inspected by the plant health authorities for disease. Last week, we passed with excellent, which was a relief. This is mainly due to the excellent growing qualities of the potato, rather that anything we have done.

We have had some wonderful wwoofers already this year, but during June we were  without volunteers. It has been lovely to enjoy our land on our own, but the days have been long. With all the regular jobs of animals (1 hour morning and night), harvesting veg, fruit and flowers (every other day), deliveries and watering (as needed) it is hard to find time to get any other jobs done like weeding, planting and site development. Although it has been good to have the time and head space to plan what needs to be done and spend some time on the computer promoting our goods.

We had Lauren and Philip wwoofing with us for 3 weeks during May,  they were a great help, fitting in like they had always been with us. They are travelling Wales for the summer looking for land and a place to settle and set up a One Planet Development project. They are film makers and permaculturalist who i am sure we will continue to see more of in the world of sustainable growing.

 

 

 

 

 

During July we had two German 15 year olds, Kalle and David, who came on work experience and an Italian women, Cristina here wwoofing. We tidied the veg beds and cutting garden, planted some flowering shrubs in the forest garden, pulled docks and did some construction. Generally having a good tidy up before our open garden day on 30th July.

The piglets are growing and are now becoming a hoard of noisy teenagers. Always hungry and constantly pushing and shoving. We have two little runts that are very cute and friendly, still smaller enough to pick up for a cuddle. We would love them to go to someone as pets, get in touch if you can home them…. We are gradually weaning the piglets from the mum, to give her a break.

 

We have a field open day booked for Sunday 30th July, 11am – 4pm. There will be tours of the growing areas and a chance to pet the animals. We will  be barbecuing some of our pork sausages, offering elerflower champagne and fruit salad. It coincides with the scarecrow festival up the valley which is always entertaining, so a good day to take a visit to Old Hall.

open day flier

Check us out on Facebook for regular updates.

Summer is here

Is summer here? Well it certainly feels like it during the day, but still we have freezing temperatures at night. But this is Wales, where is the rain, it seems more normal now for us to have a month or so of drought in spring, at least that has been the way for at least 5 or 6 years now. We have no mains water on site, relying on rain water harvest. We have the ability to collect over 10,000 litres of rain water, but we are almost dry already. Being a sun lover, i would never wish for anything else, but the plants are getting minimal watering now while we wait for the rain to come.

But i mustn’t complain, all this dry weather has warmed the soil nicely and given us plenty of opportunity to get the ground prepared for the new season crops. We have had some fantastic wwoofers this spring. Polo has been with us for 7 weeks and left on Sunday. His English was just as good as my french (which is rubbish), so challenging at times. Thank goodness Dave speaks fluent French.

 

Polo worked hard and completed many varied jobs: starting with spring cleaning and painting the caravans; tidying and weeding the flower cutting area; planting the box hedge and the veg garden hedge; making a welly boot stand; digging and preparing veg beds; sowing seeds; tidying the nursery stock ready for sale; looking after the animals; packing eggs; harvesting veg, sorting, weighing, bagging and labeling; helping install the Rayburn burner in the barn. What a busy time, thanks Polo for all your help.


We also had French couple, Pierre and Alice for 2 weeks who cooked great meals, tidied the strawberries, prepared the veg beds and propagated lot of plants in the nursery as well as looking after the animals and packing eggs.

Shortly after from Belgium came Senne, for 10 days, he was great company for me. A trained and enthusiastic horticulturalist, so we could share many conversations about land management, plants and world pioneers and experts who are leading the way. Senna needed no managing, and fitted into the farm as if he had always been there, he saw what needed to be done and thought about solutions to our problem areas. He worked with Polo preparing beds and helped me prepare the new scented flower garden.

Things are changing fast at this time of year, everything is growing so fast and as always in spring, lots of jobs needed to be done yesterday or even last week. Although this year the field is looking good and we feel on top of tasks. The potato field is due to be planted this weekend 1.5 tonnes of Sarpo Axona blight resistant seed potatoes are arriving Friday and will be grown as seed to sell back to Sarpo potato research trust. Contractor Griff came and ploughed the field and spread the muck and then David disc harrowed it every 10 days to break it down and break the weed cycle, with our new harrow. We then got another delivery of muck for the rest of the site, it is a bit fresh so will need staking and covering for a few months.

Lots of new flowers coming ready every week now, which is lovely after the months and months of only daffs. We have alliums, cornflowers, aqualigeia, lilac and many more nearly ready. The new scented flower cutting garden is almost prepared and i hope to be planting that next week with Roses, Rosemary and Lavender with plants that i have taken from cuttings. A lot of the veg beds will be planted with their summer crops over the next week or so. With the hope that by the time they germinate and show above the ground we will be frost free. I am using the Biodinamic planting calendar and will be planting roots, leafs, flowers and fruit  on the appropriate days.

The new arrival on the land this week are the piglets, well done Mrs pig. We went down to the pen on a cold and snowy 25th April to find no sign of her coming for food, but instead cuddled up in her warm pen with 15 piglets of varying colours looking like dalmatians. Grandpa pig had been chucked out of the pen looking sorry for himself in the snow, he now has been moved to a different field. Unfortunately 2 piglets didn’t make it, so she now has 12, which is a more normal number for her to have, as she only has 14 teats. It is very easy for the small babies to get squashed and suffocated, especially with so many.

For regular updates, links and tips follow us on Facebook

Another new season

Equinox has passed and we move into longer days again. Time to celebrate the end of the dark season and gear up to a season of long working days and hard work ahead. As the sap rises in the tress, so does the energy in my veins. It really feels like spring is here now, as i jump out of bed each morning eager to get on with the many chores that are waiting on the land. March is a busy time for us; as we finish the winter jobs of pruning and planting perennials, we are also busy sowing seeds and preparing planting areas. The grass has started to grow and has had it’s first cut. David has been working on all the machinery during the winter to ensure we will have a working mower throughout the whole season ahead. The tractor too, has had major engine work, the PTO had stopped working and so it has had the engine stripped down and two new clutches fitted. It still looks rubbish, but not for long. Dave has made a start at dealing with the rust and getting some paint on when the weather is dry.

Despite the destruction the polytunnel took in the January gales, our emergency patch up job has withheld several more storms and snow showers. The large rip that still remains is losing us a lot of heat, which has delayed the early planting, but the over wintering crops have still survived. I am using extra fleece and micro tunnels to allow me to get planting in the tunnel and some early crops of broad beans and peas are now emerging.

The cold being the least of my troubles, what with fat happy mice and naughty chickens the seedlings don’t stand a chance really. We are cropping lots of salad, spinach, chard, coriander and parsley.Whilst the first flowers in the tunnel, tulips and Anemone, are now ready to harvest we still have masses of daffodils coming ready for the later Easter this weekend.  

With the hot sunny weather at  coming at the beginning of April we have been able to mend the rip in the tunnel by covering it with a sheet of polytunnel plastic. So it is sweltering in there now, which means 6 O’clock starts to get crops harvested and watered before the sun gets on them.

Each year we have the perennial problem of watering, as soon as we have some warm weather we return our thoughts to the irrigation system in the polytunnel. Each year this is slightly improved and i dream of one day owning the deluxe total automated system. We now are able to collect enough rain water for all our needs and last year we installed a tap in the tunnel that flows by gravity from the large tanks, unfortunately the flow is so slow it is not very effective. The best solution was baths at every corner of the tunnel to dunk the watering cans in. But wait for further updates i am  currently working on a better system, that will save me hours of time this year.

The bird flue scare is still an issue and although the compulsory sanction has been lifted in certain areas, there is still a risk. The government guide lines states that if you are not in a high risk area (Wales is not high risk at the moment) then birds can be allowed outdoors into fenced areas provided the areas meet certain conditions. Which is keeping food away from wild birds and avoiding aquatic birds (ducks, geese etc.) as the main spread of the disease is through birds congregating around water. So our poultry is very happy to be back out and free ranging around the farm, causing havoc in my flower beds and kicking my beautifully mulched beds all over the place. Our belief is our birds with their now healthy foraged, free ranging diet, will be much more resistant to any disease. To prove our thinking, within a couple of days of being out they started laying eggs again (partly due to the warmer weather and longer days, but also i am sure they were just more content). So maybe not the best time to expand our flock, but we did it anyway. Last week i bought 40 new hens, 72 weeks old and saved from an early slaughter. We are giving them a second chance at life, these rather stupid barn hens are now learning about roosting and the big outdoors.

We had an excellent woofer from America, Philip, who came early in the season, Feb into March. An interesting young man who was very helpfully just when we needed some ‘get up and get on with it’. He helped me tidy and mulch the raspberries, start to installing the Rayburn into the barn, plant the wildlife pond, mend the large pond and sort the pork…..

 

Yes the 10 little porkers have gone!!! They were 6 months old and had become too much trouble, they were plenty big enough to handle and made a lot of mess, noise and naughtiness. Ideally we would have fattened them up for another 2 months, but they were costing a lot to feed and they kept breaking out and causing damage. Are we sad to see them go? NO, we are relieved. At last we can go into the field not expecting disaster and damage, keen to get on the with new growing season. Philip didn’t meet the piglets, but he was here to sort out the pork (luckily he was a meat eater and appreciated the experience). We rented the Cultivate packing shed (which has a 5* environmental health rating) for sorting and packing the 70 different orders we had for pork. We had pick ups that day in Newtown and the following day in Llanidloes and Machynlleth. The whole thing went very smoothly and was a massive relief when all done. With 70 orders it was a lot of logistics to sort out, with different people having different contact preferences that complicated messaging, but it all came together in the end. Unfortunately the dead weight of the pigs was a bit less than we had expected averaging at 32kg each, we had expected 38kg, the norm is 50kg. So we had no meat left at the end of the orders and made no profit. We think we just about broke even (not finished the accounts yet). So 6 months wet, cold, muddy, stinky work for no pay. Would i do it again?… Probably. Would we do it better?… Possibly. (Had we kept them an extra 2-3 months we would have got the extra weight but after paying for the food, we would have still only made £500 profit).  If we were to do it another time, it would be better for the piglets to be born as early as possible in the year, so most of the work would be done in the summer months, when the weather is nice and the grass is still growing. Although we had a lot of very tasty sausages made, they cost us £2.50 /kg so ate away at our profit as they were sold at the same price as the rest of the meat. We needed to find a cheaper source of pig food. In somerset we can buy a bag of food direct from the farmer @£3.50 locally it is £8.50. Perhaps next time we will have to factor in regular trips south.We still have kept our original two kune kune’s; mum and granddad (castrated male, useless pet), they are so easy to look after in comparison to the hoard of hooligan teenagers.

Our spring wwoofer is Polo, from France, come to learn English for 6 weeks. Perhaps i will improve my French at the same time. I have given him the job of spring cleaning the caravans ready for the summer visitors. A job i hate, and each year spend many thankless hours doing, when i should be doing gardening tasks. It is great to have extra help at the time of year.

 

We have tidied up the nursery, sown lots of seed, harvested crops, planted up the polytunnel with early season crops and tidied the flower beds and finished planting the box hedge around the flower cutting garden. 

We have two new French wwoofer joining us this week to help with all the spring planting. Perfect timing to fit in with the bio-dynamic planting calendar too. Now the weather  is getting better and the days are longer, the soil is starting to warm up at last, so seeds should germinate quickly now.

This year we are putting in an acre of potatoes, which will be grown as seed for Sarpo Potatoes Research Trust. The pigs have been on the ground to clear it over the winter, although the grass has mainly grown back, this week it was ploughed and is nicely drying out in the hot weather, ready for planting later in the month. During February we had a potato growers technical day at the field. The potato experts were on hand to give advice and get growers started growing potatoes for seed.

New year

January and the New Year started well with a very positive and motivating visit to the Oxford Real Farming Conference. A fantastic event,  ORFC delegates are those from across food and farming, with an interest in new agricultural models. Those interested in meeting global food system challenges in innovative, environmentally sustainable ways. This two day event is affordable to everyone working on the land or in the food industry, it is a brilliant networking event that delivers the most up to date research on sustainable and regenerative farming techniques and practices. A great start to every year.

Since then and back on the land in January it is hard to stay motivated in Mid Wales. The days are short and the weather harsh. Farming with animals keeps us working the land every day all year, keeping animals in winter is so much harder than during the summer. But we love them, even if we don’t like the mud they create. We rotate our animals which take more work keep moving fencing, houses, feeders and water, but it keeps our animals clean, happy and with fresh grazing. This year is proving difficult. All birds now have to be kept in by government ruling, due to the risk of a new strain of bird flue. So before Christmas we built a new run for them with an enclosed roof. It looked great for less than a week before the wind took its toll, then the weight of the frozen rain on the netted roof. So with the new year and Brian’s help we did a patch up job. The poultry aren’t too happy about being copped up every day, but at least they have a good size run, even if it is starting to get a bit muddy. But it looks a green joy compared to the pig pens. We now have 12 pigs, 2 full grown and 10 still growing, but these youths are getting to be a very forceful gang of thugs. We turn them onto fresh grazing each week and within the day they have churned it up and by mid week it is hard to see any green. The feeding area needs to be moved more often as their little feet pummel the mud into a wet soup that sucks in your boots to prevent you from moving anywhere but onto your butt. I struggle to stay upright in the pen with so many large pigs, so feeding has landed onto Dave. On top of this the youngsters have learnt to run at the electric fence and take the shock to give them freedom onto the veg and flower beds; enjoying eating swedes and digging up tulips. The piglets will be five months old at the weekend, and are already quite a size, the destruction this amount of large piglets can make in no time at all is incredible. To contain them they have had to go back into the permanent fenced area, with extra fencing, barbed wire and base boards each day. Until…At last they are secure and haven’t escaped for a couple of days. So much for rotational strip grazing, we will leave that for the old’ns who know how to behave. Note to self…..12 pigs is too many to keep over winter.

January is snow time….so i was busy last week covering plants and preparing for heavy snow, but it hadn’t prepared me for the damage of last Wednesday’s gales. This time last week i was being lifted into the air as gusts of wind ripped my polytunnel plastic from the frame and flapped it about 30ft above the tunnel. Hours later and literally freezing we managed to make a temporary repair. Thank goodness for the full moon that night, we eventually finished ‘battened down the hatches’ at 10pm. I have never been so glad to finish work at the field and get home. Although we made a repair, with lots of gaffer tape and we managed to clamp the plastic back down to the side rails, i still have a huge rip across the roof letting all the cold in. We threw a net over this to stop it flapping or ripping again and probably i will just have to live with it like that for now. Even if i could buy a new cover i couldn’t fit it till the weather warms up in late spring. So this is going to delay the early spring crops and early propagation in the hot box.

So to look forward …..i have bought 10 new assorted roses to plant in the new scented flower cutting area, which will also have long beds of different lavenders. The first of this years daffodils have been harvested and are now available in the local shops. The new raised flower beds are ready to go in spring. Two have been planted with tulips. The last of the winter crops are being harvested and the beds covered to protect them ready for the spring planting. The compost order is about to go in, as it is nearly time to start sowing seeds for the new season. This year i am getting Melcourt Sylvagrow peat free organic compost. 

Roll on the longer days and a bit more blue sky.

Frosty winter

Winter is well and truly here. Some lovely sunny frosty days followed by starry nights. After a long Autumn with tomatoes and peppers still cropping in November we had a few days of freezing temperatures down to -10 to finish off the summer crops. The freezing weather bought beautiful dry sunny days to lighten the heart and ease the working day. Allowing us to enjoy tidying the land, putting beds to rest and preparing for next season.

It has been an excellent harvest year for so many crops. This year i tried a new root vegetable called Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)  from the nasturtium family. Grown in the Andes, particularly in Peru and Bolivia, and to a lesser extent in Ecuador, for its edible tubers, which are eaten cooked or roasted as a vegetable. Mashua is a herbaceous perennial climber growing to 2–4 m (7–13 ft) in height. It is related to garden nasturtiums, and is occasionally cultivated as an ornamental for its brightly coloured tubular flowers.

We have collected a bumper crop of apples this year, mainly from other peoples trees, although our trees are starting to come into production now. We pressed apple to make juice which we bottled and pasteurised to keep as juice. It’s a slow process, but we managed to do about 70 bottles. We also got a small crop of quince and medlar from our trees this year.

 

The new raised flower beds are now finished, filled with muck and bark mulch, which will rot down over the winter ready for spring planting.

Dave has been busy with machinery maintenance, in the hope that next summer we always have a mower working.

 

The pigs are getting big and are working as very productive rotavators. They have already cleared the ground ready for the new flowering hedge and lavender beds. The pigs are moving onto new pasture each week, clearing land ready for a potato crop next spring. As the piglets get bigger it is not taking them long to turn the land into a muddy mess.

 

Flowers cropped well all season with fresh flower bunches going to the shop until the last week in November, when they were joined with dried bunches of mixed arrangements and lavender. With Christmas just around the corner i have just harvested an assortment of different coloured willows, which will be woven into wreath rings.

Awesome Autumn

What a beautiful sunny long Autumn we have had. Harvest has gone on and on into late October, only in the last week did it get colder. Then on 2nd November we had our first heavy frost, freezing the water troughs for the animals and finishing off the beans, oca and flowers. Now with the leaves drop fast from the trees and the days rapidly shortening we are tidying up and battening down the hatches ready for winter and remembering a lovely summer.

During August we had a relaxed month with much yoga and good cooking with the company of Kristina, Angelo and their two young children Said & Sofía from Spain. Kristina being a kundalini yoga teacher and Angelo is a chef. It was hard to do much work with the youngsters around, so we did much socialising with other families, whilst waiting for Mrs pig to give birth.

Unfortunately the piglets arrived the day they left, but Emma Dodart from France was with me to witness the birth. We sat up late into the night watching the babies being born, an amazing experience that will stay with us for ever. The piglets born on 20th August are now 12 weeks old and growing fast. We are rotational strip grazing them, but these are Tamworth babies and unlike our grazing Kune Kunes they dig. The destruction they are causing is getting worse by the day. We are now moving them to new pasture every day, but still they are ploughing up the land. They have been in the orchard contained between the tree rows with electric fence. Soon they will be moved out into the big hay meadow, where we want them to clear the land ready for next year where we will be planting. We will be hedging one part to make more flower beds for lavender and roses and leaving an acre to plough for a crop of seed potatoes that we will be growing for Sarpo potato breeders and Welsh ware growers.

During September we had two wwoofers from the UK, Jack and Catherine. There was lots to harvest at this time, with lots of veg and fruit to process to feed us during the winter.  Cath was here to learn about flowers and help me prepare flowers for a wedding. Five headdresses were required that all had to be made fresh on the day and need to be delivered by 11am an hours drive away. So just a few hours sleep and then up at 1am to start work on buttonholes, headdresses and bouquets.

This week, with the help of Brian we have moved the owl box into a better position away from our busy, noisy barn to a site in the middle of our land in the hedge by the orchard. It is now sitting on top of a 3m pole. It looks a little out on it’s own at the moment, but as the hedge grows up it will be perfectly positioned.

We also finished the pond that Hippolyte and Rosalie had dug in July. It couldn’t be finished then as we needed to wait for the pond to fill with water. Now full we used the piles of soil to cover the edge of the pond liner and level the ground. We removed three current bushes to give more space to enable us to walk around the edge of the pond. To finish it off we put up a totem pole that will over look the veg garden and keep an eye on it. The totem pole lines up beautifully with the new owl box, so hopefully birds will fly between the two, eating a few mice on the way.