Spring (and early summer) has sprung on the farm!

Spring (and early summer) has sprung on the farm!

2016-08-01 23:31:40
(A little late…again!) Spring has sprung on the farm. House martins, swallows, blue tits, great tits, robins and bad boys - magpies and rooks - are in abundance. Early morning is a cacophony of bird song.

June - not so flaming this year - has seen most of the young woodland trees going though a growth spurt and starting to peep over the top of their high protective tubes. A hard lesson learnt was not making sure all the trees had been sufficiently mulched with wood chip to keep surrounding grass and weeds at bay. As a result, and seemingly overnight, the beautiful meadow grasses, loving the mixture of wet and warm weather, have shot up around them, blocking the sun and crowding the baby trees, competing for water and nutrients from the soil.
To try to minimise the effect of this long sessions have been spent on hands and knees, cutting back the grasses, removing each protective tube, pulling up the grass and weeds immediately around the base of the trees, having a quick chat with them (Prince Charles would be proud) before encasing them back inside their tubes (not so easy now the saplings are sprouting). And finally surrounding them with a deep bed of mulch. More work to be done here, including planting Yellow Rattle this autumn, which should help to tackle the grass.

Over in the orchard, most of the trees are full of leaf and many have produced apples - all removed bar one per tree - hard to do and it feels like we are going against nature, but it will help them in the long run if they can get their roots well established this year. We’ve lost two of the 47 planted, so not a bad loss, Plus I added a greengage and a damson a few months ago and they have taken off really well. Im looking forward to making damson and port jam (will be available via the online shop before too long!) it will have to go some to beat the popularity of the Plum and Mulled Wine Jam mind you:)

The pair of quince trees are suffering from blight again this year, as last, but I have it on good authority it is to be expected in our area of the country, but despite that the resulting fruit should be okay. Let’s face it, they are not the prettiest fruits to start with!

Last year’s regular orchard visitor, Little Owl, has not made his presence known so much this year. I have seen him a handful of times in the last few months, but not daily as last year, sadly. How lovely then, to go out late one recent evening and spot not just one but a pair of little owls in my torchlight. Having been a little spooked by me, they flew to alternate perches but did not fly away completely for a couple of minutes. What a joy.

A sad update as we go to press - Shirley (Bassey) - a blue maran hen (pictured) not singing Welsh diva - has gone to the hen coop in the sky. Having also lost one of our ex-batts, Tilla, a little while ago, it is time to get some more, so next weekend we will be collecting four more ex-batts from the British Hen Welfare Trust and giving them a much better life than they will have had thus far.

Finally, having been an avid Blue Peter fan as a child (and indeed winning a much coveted Blue Peter Badge!) I think we ought to bury a Blue Peter style time capsule under one of the oak trees. Any ideas what to put in it? Leave suggestions on our Facebook page please!

Winter 2015 - Wet and Windy!

Winter 2015 - Wet and Windy!

2016-03-02 23:29:31
Apologies for the delay in this blog. November and December came and went in a flash.

The first week of December saw the delivery of the woodland trees, all wrapped up on a pallet like a big Christmas present. Our planting weekend weather forecast was for a cold, windy and wet in parts weekend, and so it was. But you can’t change the weather, so all togged up we and our hardy small-but-perfectly-formed band of volunteers, Clare, Clive and Caroline, made their way across the paddock armed with spades and lump hammers.

The most time consuming part was moving around the various bits and pieces – the stakes and tubes for the trees and spiral and canes for the shrubs.

One stumbling block had been the lack of available information about planting woodlands. The general advice is to plant in wavy lines, with specimen trees in groups of ten to twenty trees, with shrubs planted around the outside to create a gradual incline to the larger trees.

In the event I marked out three large ovals for the three main groups of trees, an area for the coppice and another for the Sissinghurst-inspired nuttery. The simple task of marking out with a sports line-marking spray turned into something of a back breaking exercise as I needed to bend over and walk/spray so that it didn’t blow away as soon as it came out of the can. We then mowed the areas to shorten the grass and provide a more visual guide as to where to plant.

We began by planting a central tree in each of the three ovals and then pacing out roughly three meters in various directions to plant the rest. We notch planted (making a T-cut in the ground with the spade and then leaning back on the spade to open up the notch. After inserting the sapling in the centre it is then relatively easy to heel the sapling safely into the ground.) Gradually each little sapling was planted, covered by a protective tube, and staked in.

The wind and wild weather that followed that week gave them all a good watering and checked out our staking prowess.

Ninety-nine trees – willow, oak, sweet chestnut and hazel, were planted in the coppice. Neat rows of trees in 1.5m spacings.

Close-by walnut and sweet chestnut trees have been planted in rows to create a nuttery. I look forward to the day when the mature nuttery is underplanted with woodland plants – primroses and violets amongst others. I alluded earlier to Sissinghust Castle. If you have not visited before, it is definitely worth a trip. Wonderful gardens created with love and passion. I adore this quote from their website https://sissinghurstcastle.wordpress.com/category/the-nuttery/

For Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, the presence of an ancient nuttery and an Elizabethan tower in the grounds of Sissinghurst were enough to make them fall head over heels, with Harold writing on April 6th 1930 ‘We come suddenly upon a nut walk and that settles it…’ Never mind the fact that the rest of the house was virtually a ruin and totally uninhabitable; they had fallen in love with a nuttery and the rest, as they say, is history.

Planting the trees – the oaks - especially evoked a strange feeling of mortality. They could be here in hundreds of years time, long, long after we have all gone. Will someone be standing under one thinking “I wonder who planted that?” just like I do now under the beautiful oaks that stand in nearby Dillington Park.

Crab apples have been planted within the woodland but also around the edge of the orchard, which should be a huge boost to the fruit trees.

Meanwhile, there has been a rush on for plum and mulled wine jam! So much so, we are now out of stock. I’m glad others have found it so lovely. There will be more in the making very soon.

Apples in the air - October 2015

Apples in the air - October 2015

2015-11-02 11:42:05
October has been a month of beautiful autumnal colours with the scent of apples in the air and harvesting taking place all around us. Farmers have been working until late into the night to bring in the thousands of acres of maize that have surrounded us all summer. The relatively dry and bright days presumably helped. The lack of wind, a welcome relief after the blowy summer, has slowed the leaf fall, making the glorious colours last a little longer than usual. Traditional Apple Days have been held at orchards around and about with a wide range of assorted apple fare being served, orchards open to visitors and, most importantly, apples being collected and pressed for juice and cider. Pictured is an old, originally horse-drawn, press being put to good use in a neighbouring orchard.

Here on the farm rather slower progress has been made, largely due to other commitments. However, much research and preparation has been made for the arrival of the woodland trees in the first week of December. Lots of garden planning has also been going on, a major project in itself.

One critter accidentally unearthed in the garden, identified, and then buried again, was a stag beetle larva (pictured). Stag beetles are the largest ground beetles in the UK, stunning to look at with a strange lifecycle and endangered across to the world, due mainly to their reducing habitat. They need decaying wood to live on and to lay their eggs in however parkland and gardens often get ‘tidied up’ and this valuable resource cleared away. Not the prettiest larvae, but they turn into the most magnificent looking creatures. I was surprised to learn that stag beetles spend the majority of their life underground, from three to seven years, only emerging as an adult one May day to mate, before dying by late August. For that short few months the males spend their days sunbathing and flying around looking for a mate, and if lucky, mating. Encourage them in your garden by providing piles of wood, leaves and compost and if you stumble across larvae, bury it again as quickly as possible. Should you be lucky enough to spot a stag beetle, here is the link to a research survey being run by Peoples Trust for Endangered Species and the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Talking of endangered species, we also had a welcome visit from a large hedgehog, the first we have seen here. Alerted to it by our curious dogs, the hog was curled up in a tight ball on the patio – I hope he or she lives close-by. It probably already has a home, but just in case I am going to build one or two ‘hog houses’ to encourage them. We’ve certainly got plenty of slugs to share with them!
http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/leaflets/L5-Hedgehog-Homes.pdf - no planning permission required!!

October also saw the launch of our preserve sales – jams and chutneys ‘hand made in Somerset’. Plum and Mulled Wine Jam is my favourite – it tastes of Christmas. We are also awaiting delivery of some very special works of art to our online shop. Beautiful cards and framed pictures created by The Barefoot Beachcomber in Devon. Made from fragments of natural materials collected from the beach along with vintage finds, the original cards are meant to be framed and treasured. Give them as a card, or as a ready-framed picture.

Check out the site for lots of Christmas present ideas - items can be gift-wrapped and sent directly to friends and loved ones, at no extra cost. Just drop us a line when you order with instructions.

Indian summer days, aliens and fizz! - September 2015

Indian summer days, aliens and fizz! - September 2015

2015-10-01 10:02:00
Our Indian summer, aka September, was a time of learning for us, starting with a visit to the Orchard Link Annual Gathering. Orchard Link is a group of orchard owners based in Devon who share ideas, knowledge and equipment. Unfortunately there is no such group in Somerset (not that we have found anyway) but travelling to Devon to meet them is no hardship. So a lovely day was spent travelling to a pretty village near even prettier Kingsbridge in lovely late summer sunshine.
The first part of the day was spent being shown around the Trees for Health Agroforesty Project, with its fruit and nut orchards and its understory planting. Although we are not going down that route ourselves, they had some great ideas and it was interesting to see what had worked for them and what hadn’t, and to compare their young almond trees with ours (ours has more almonds!:))

We then had a tour around a traditional orchard, most of which was planted around 16 years ago. Seeing the trees laden with apples was a real treat and it made it easier to imagine ours big enough to produce a crop. Sops in Red Wine is one of my favourite trees here. We have two that have taken particularly well and have beautiful dusky pink leaves, and it was lovely to see one fully grown and laden with beautiful bright red apples, that have pink flesh on the inside. It is a heavy cropping cider and cooking apple, which also juices well.

The hosts for the meeting run a really lovely holiday let business with converted barns and a fabulous old barn converted into a function room recently completed, which would make a great party venue for a group. http://www.beesonhols.co.uk/holiday-cottages.htm

A juice and cider tasting session followed, and we even managed to win a gallon of cider made by our hosts in the raffle. A good end to a very useful day.

And then came…..the ALIEN! As already detailed and pictured on our FB page, we had an unwelcome visitor or two to the orchard. One tree had lost most of its leaves so I set up the field camera to see what had taken a fancy to it. What I did not expect it to pick up was a seemingly flying caterpillar! But sure enough, it was. I set out to find them, and sure enough did. It was hard not to find really. They were huge. Like, huge. Identified first by Rachel, who receives a prize from our online shop, it was a hawk eye moth caterpillar. Three trees decimated, but hopefully they will survive the attack.

A lucky find by my brother-in-law and a further discussion with some visiting friends may just have set off another challenge for us. B-I-L arrived armed with a bottle of Wraxall sparkling wine, picked up in a farm shop. It was certainly sparkly and in a blind test I would have sworn it was Champagne. Even better, it is from a Somerset vineyard! http://www.wraxallvineyard.co.uk/sparkling-wines.html I haven’t tried their other wines, but the sparkling is definitely worth seeking out.
So added to my to-do list now is:
a) take a tour of the vineyard and learn more about growing vines
b) grow vines!

Meanwhile in the hen run, we have a new addition. OH has cleverly added some guttering to the covered area and placed a water butt inside. Thanks to some overnight rain our hens now have running fresh water on tap. I am expecting their moult to begin soon, which will mean a drop in egg production so have been freezing eggs (not in a fertility clinic kind of way – these are gently whisked and frozen in silicone muffin cases initially, perfect to defrost and cook when needed) ready for the possible barren weeks ahead. Ginger, a Cotswold Legbar and our oldest hen by some years (now about 7 years old) has decided to lay the odd egg, which is amazing being as I thought we were going to lose her a few months ago. She seems to like taking her place in the nesting box whether or not she is going to lay and definitely remains top of the pecking order. I just hope this coming winter is kind to her.

Talking of winter = Christmas = look no further than our online shop for some lovely stocking fillers!!

Pic: Ginger, photographed by Clare “Marsty” Venning.

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