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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

July post

July is over so quick, not the sunny summer month we had hoped for. Just a few sunny days dotted in between lots of cloud and rain making it impossible to harvest the hay. Keeping on top of the grass generally has been a chore this month with mowers and strimmers breaking down. Once the grass gets long it is a battle to get it back down and paths become wet walk ways. That said we have achieved a lot this month with the help of four young wwoofers.

Hippolyte an environmental student from our twin town Derval came with Rosalie an agriculture student also from France. They took on the roll of looking after the animals for the month and were excellent farm hands helping out wherever needed. We also had Quintin from France and Aziat who is studying in France but from Butan. For both of them this was a new experience, living in a caravan, minimal services and working on the land. Much English and French was learnt and love and appreciation for the land grew. David managed to finish the vintage caravan just in time for Aziat’s arrival. It is great to see this in use again, it needs a coat of paint, but otherwise it is all solid and dry.

July we tamed the forest garden, sycthed grass, weeded, mulched, sowed seeds, transplanted plants, harvested, put together veg boxes and watered. Quentin helped Brian finish the roof on the toilet block to collect more water. Hippolyte and Rosalie dug and formed the wildlife pond. Quentin and Aziat painted all the wheelbarrows, so that we can get a few more years use out of the them.They made scarecrows for the scarecrow festival. For David and I this great team enabled us to take time off. We went to our sons graduation and camped on the Gower for the night to get a day on the beach. We then took a week of at the end of the month, first time since owning the field. We had a lovely week on a canal boat with family. A massive thank you to Aziat and Hippolyte for allowing us to do that.

 

May into June

A lovely time of year on the land, the weather is good and the fruits of our labour are rewarding us with the first harvests. The first peas came a couple of weeks ago and now we have broad beans and courgette, all coming out of the tunnel. The first of the salad outside is ready now and the last of the purple sprouting broccoli is being cleared ready for the squashes and pumpkins. I may even dig up some new potatoes tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been busy making the caravans habitable for the summer visitors. Mending doors, making steps and checking electrics. Dave’s renovation of the vintage Safari caravan is coming on, a few more days needed on it yet. The new static is almost in a fit state to stay in.

The ongoing improvements of the water recycling continues with help of Brian. We are now collecting from the wood shed for the outside nursery plants. Brian today extended the gutters on the polytunnel, so we will now need some bigger collection containers for each corner. I have bought the posts ready to add another roof extension onto the wash area, so that we can collect more water for the tunnel. We have also started on plumbing in the waste water drainage from the kitchen sinks. Which will make washing up a little easier, with waste water draining onto the forest garden to water the twisted willow that always suffers in the summer from lack of water.

Trevor and Clemont our current two wwoofers  have been busy doing carpentry. Having made some lovely steps for the Elite caravan, mended a bench and made a sink unit.

The lovely visiting Tamworth boar has done his job and has now left. He enjoyed his stay especially climbing into the bath on hot days.

Planting time

It is the biodynamic planting time again. Planting with the moon and planet influences, roughly two weeks then two weeks break from planting to get on with all the other stuff. Here is a link for more info. Try it, it works. Reducing the need to water seeds and transplant as it works with natural systems of soil water and rain. It is also a good way of managing your time to make sure jobs get done. Although i still have conflict with all the other jobs waiting to be done.

At the field we are still working on our new static caravan, finishing off the insulation, painting and  kitting out. Also revamping the crew kitchen in the barn to make it a bit more hygienic. The rough earth floor now has boards down to cover it, so we can sweep up the food mess. We will fit this as a fixed floating floor at some point, but it is already a great improvement. Next job is to plumb the sinks in, so the waste water goes straight outside and waters the twisted willow. No plumbed water yet.

New arrivals

We have had a lovely couple of sunny weeks, just what was needed to dry out the land. This has enabled us to get busy. Planting and sowing is now in full flow, following the bio-dynamic planting calender days for each crop type. Now the land is drier we can move vehicles around. Griff our local friend and contractor spent a couple of days on site with his digger. Digging the long awaited wildlife pond in the top field by the steam. Now we have the start of the pond we can get ducks. At the weekend we got five khaki Campbell crosses. They will eventually live on a floating island on the water. At the moment they will live with the hens till they are settled on our site, then they will help to puddle the clay in the pond to seal it. This breed originated in England and are good egg layers.

Griff also levelled a flat area in readiness for our static caravan which arrived this Thursday. It is only a water tight shell at the moment, that the previous owner had stripped of fittings and started to insulate and clad. We will continue to do this as we find bits of kingspan and board.

Yesterday the prize wining Tamworth boar arrived to visit our girl. He will be staying for a month.    

 

Another new season

It’s been a long time since my last blog update….well there is only so much  i can do. Since last summer busy times have past. The Autumn saw some good harvests (mainly from the tunnel) and some poor harvests. Squashes were a disaster, not only did we have a late spring frost and cold winds that took all my early planting we then had an early Autumn frost in September that wiped out any tender crops just as they were getting going, including all the squash, pumpkins and runner and French beans that had been re-planted outside. The Autumn then went on to be long and mild with little rain till the end of October, this was great for anyone growing in the town where the frost hadn’t hit.

During the Autumn i was busy writing up my three year potato study ‘ Easy organic potatoes’. A look at varieties for low input growing, with no weeding, watering or pest control. All varieties tested were main crop floury potatoes, suitable for baking, chipping and roasting. A very brief summary ….Toluca are very tasty but need irrigation and had very poor yields (only a tenth of other varieties). Older well know reliable varieties such as Cara and Lady Balfour give good yields but taste is a bit bland. Lady Balfour is prone to wire worm, so not best for the first few years on new ground. New varieties from Sarpo and Agrico research centres are proving to be best for Organic systems. Good yields and tasty too. For a resilient system plant a selection of varieties to cope with different weather conditions and pests. Try Sarpo Axona and Allouette from Agrico.

My Autumn confinement, glued to the computer crunching numbers to churn out statistics zoomed past and suddenly we were into the new year. The winter was wet and windy and it was hard to find any motivation to work on the land. Although we still had the pigs and chickens, so twice daily visits to feed and check on them continued. Each day the land getting muddier and wetter, every other week another storm battered the site. All we could do was keep putting on the wellies and waterproof and repair the damage and tidy up the aftermath of each gale. Nothing could be achieved on the land, so we turned our attention to renovating our house. Three months of de-cluttering, mending, building, painting and tiling and we now have a tidy, clean and comfortable house just in time for the boys to move back in for Easter.

At last spring is here again, a couple of dry weeks and the land is starting to recover. We now only have three pigs, but we had five for most of the winter. They are grazing pigs, so we had to keep finding them fresh land, which proved difficult with all the rain. We now have our big hay meadow fenced with electric fencing so that we can give the three paddocks time to recover. There is a lot of bare soil, so now the soil is warming up I am going to scatter a mix and green manures and wild flowers to give a wider species diversity to the meadows.

The tunnel went up last June, but was never quite finished, so attention has returned to this now. Brian has been keeping me focussed on collecting water for irrigation and tweaking the tunnel so it works better for us. In Autumn we set up systems to collect 8000 litres of rain water, which should now be full after all the winter rain. Unfortunately the filter in the field irrigation cracked in the frost and we lost all 5000 litres of water. Note to self…next winter drain down the pipes. The polytunnel tanks had a leak, so instead of 3000 litres we only collected about 500. So i am hoping for a bit more rain before we have a drought. Brian has kept me on the case of collecting water, encouraging me to extend the roof of the toilet block above the tunnel. With help on our Thursday volunteer day from the two Brian’s, Lynne and Dave we put up most the shelter extension in a day, with Brian and me finishing yesterday in the rain. Fixing the gutter is best done in the rain to see the flow of water. With the Easter weekend here we are guaranteed to have a good amount of rain so hopefully it will fill the tanks up a bit. I have been working on getting the polytunnel watering more automated. Now the tanks feed the tunnel by gravity and run four 30m lengths of porous pipes, each with two filters in line to keep the system clear. All seems to be working fine at the moment, just need the tanks to be fuller. 

Today was the first really warm day, a little taster of the season ahead. Just what is needed to motivate and energise me. Had a busy day mucking and planting potatoes in the tunnel, pruning the forest garden and cutting back the willow. Whist Brian cut flaps in the polytunnel doors, so that we can access the door bolt from inside the tunnel. After a light lunch of fresh eggs and salad we set across the field in the search for water, divining to find a spring. The pigs thought this was very entertaining and Brian the non believer is now converted.

Plenty to do in the field now, looking forward to having longer days and more sun.

Join us on the land, drop in any time on Thursdays 10am – 5pm.

I have set up a Facebook page and will be posting regular updates on there. Find us here.

 

Sunny summer

The structure of the site feels like it is starting to come together now….The polytunnel is up at last, took longer than expected, but with storm braces to strengthen the structure it should be safe from wind and snow. The winched side vents are still to finish, but with the season getting on the priority quickly moved to planting. My sad tomatoes and cucumbers had been in pots since March and where desperate to spread their roots, amazingly they recovered quickly from the neglect and after only a few weeks in the ground have greened up and are rocketing away.

I have also planted sweetcorn, French beans and courgettes in the tunnel. The planting that was in the original end of the tunnel that was sent into shock when we lost the cover in March have now been cropped. The early potatoes have been eaten (very tasty), and the broad beans and peas have finished cropping and been cleared. The extra space has been used for some more new potatoes that will be ready in Autumn, carrots and beetroot. The next job is to sort out the irrigation. It is taking a couple of hours to water the tunnel by hand and a more automatic system is needed. I am looking at seep hose, which will run on low pressure, but still it is long lengths to rely on gravity for pressure. The field irrigation has been much simpler to sort out.

Pedro and Sol

The large 2500 litre water tank collecting from the shed now runs water to three taps around the site. A tap at the pigs, the field veg and chicken pen, this will save us so much time and work carrying watering cans. Thanks to my son Sol and our fantastic wwoofer Pedro for fitting this system for me for my birthday pressie.

Paula in the flower garden

We have achieved lots over the last three weeks with the help of Pedro, Paula and their young son Joaquim, the most wonderful Wwoofers, from Brazil, on the start of their two year tour. We caught up with all the planting, weeding and harvesting and even managed to get the hay in and make jam. We wish them all the best in their adventure and are missing them already.

Red currents

Red currents

We have had some good summer sun over the last month interspersed with plenty of rain. It’s been a hard year to get the hay in dry, but the machinery is all working well and we even managed to cut the hay in the orchard mechanically this year after moving the soft fruit bushes during the winter.

This June has seen a bumper crop of strawberries picking 10-15 kg every other day, we’ve eaten enough to last us until next year, made many jars of Jam using several different recipes including one of Paula’s with cardamom.

Elderflower champagne

Having caught up with a few jobs  it has been nice to relax and share the land with a few summer gatherings …..During June Steve Jones of Sector 39 bought his permaculture students for a tour of the site, to look at systems. Our youngest son Sol turned 16 at the end of June and finished school ready to party. We then had 50+ Scout Explorers to camp for the weekend, five local packs getting together before their trip to Switzerland at the end of July.

As we move through July we have to ask what is happening to our summer as the cold rain seems endless. It’s great for filling up the water butts, but it miserable for getting on with jobs. Dave is busy fencing a new area ready for more pigs arriving next week. To join our four we have their father and four siblings coming. The kune Kunes don’t dig much, instead grazing, they have been great at eating all the weeds, enjoying dandelions and thistles best.

What’s new this spring

Things have been busy at the field over the last couple of months. With the weather suddenly getting a whole lot better plants are springing into life, flowers are opening and buds are bursting.

We have new residents arrive last month, 4 piglets, Kune kune crosses. This bred of pig are good for small holdings as they graze; fattening up slowly on a mixed diet, enjoying eating grass and do not need high protein pig nuts.We still have our 7 hens and they are laying lots of eggs each day. Another new addition is our owl box, which arrived last weekend. This has been fitted to the end of the barn over looking the meadow. There are owls in the area so hopefully one of this years youngsters will move in some time later.

The veg garden is still producing a constant supply of salad, chard and herbs. Today I harvested this years first crop of spinach and new season lettuce, making a nice change from all the peppery brassica salad leaves that have seen us through the winter. Over wintering broad beans are now in flower and should be giving us a crop in May. At last I have more peas and broad beans coming up, the mice have eaten one sowing after another, so there will be a bit of a gap in cropping as these will not be ready to harvest until July. Hopefully in future years an owl will control mice numbers.

I am looking forward to a good apple harvest this year, the trees have been in for three years now and this year they have lots of flower buds developing. Today i saw a bee checking out the unopened flowers on one of the pear trees. So I am hoping for no frosts for a while, to ensure fruit set.

The last couple of weeks we have had help at the field from our friend and wwoofer Alex who has now set off to continue his cycle around Europe, next stop Holland. Alex is studying agroecology and his family keep goats for cheese, so we have enjoyed eating lots of tasty goats cheese and had many interesting conversations about ecological farming. Whilst with us Alex helped Dave fence for the pigs, started weeding the raspberries, tidied our tat piles, and prepare veg beds. We also made progress on my irrigation system, the water butts are now linked together, all be it a bit leaky. Slowly getting there, one step at a time. The polytunnel cover is now off and waiting for the new one to go on now the weather is warm. Still a few bits to finish of first, fixing the cross beams, windows and the wooden side rails then the plastic can go on. By then I need to get the irrigation automated, it takes so long by hand.

The fruit bushes we moved earlier in the year are looking great with a bumper crop of flowers coming on the redcurrants and blueberries already.