Archive for the ‘eco conference centre’ Category

Organic Gardening

18 September, 2011

After such a good start to the year with a warm sunny Spring its been a dull Summer which hasn’t contributed to the growth and development of some crops. Melons after planting both in frames and in the glasshouse sat around for ages before beginning to grow again and we won’t be getting any melons this year. Although the tomato plants grew well fruit has been slow to ripen and taste and texture has been poor(with a flavour reminiscent of cotton wool ) I am informed as I can’t eat them myself due to an allergy. Even regular feeding with comfrey liquid to increase potash doesn’t appear to have improved the quality by much. Many people are saying similar as to the taste of tomatoes this year so lack of sunshine is surely a factor. The only other poor crop this year has been dwarf French beans which in my experience do better in a dryer and warmer summer. Most of the other crops have done well with prolific cucumbers in the polytunnel, good sized onions and some monster beetroots. Other successes in particular were lettuce, plums, strawberries, fennel, carrots and garlic. Runner beans and autumn raspberries have faced constant battering by winds which have done them no favours.The sweetcorn was blown sideways after the severe winds last week and we had to stake all the plants which is a first for me. This was probably planted a little late on our exposed site but its nearly ready now. We have kept the conference centre well supplied with vegetables and any excess has been sent to the Bristol shop.

Vegetable garden in September

Vegetable garden in September

The south facing greenhouses were leaking badly whenever it rained so when it was dry we have been up on the roof sealing with silicone which has improved the situation considerably. The rain blown horizontally by last weeks gales revealed further leaks however where no rain could normally be expected to go requiring another assault on the ridge and hopefully curing the problem for the winter ahead.

We have already sown some Hungarian rye after early potatoes , early lettuce and onions. When the carrots are harvested for storage these beds will also be sown . This is a good cover crop  over winter to prevent nutrient leaching and its deep penetrative roots are good for soil structure. It is also a good weed suppressant and continues to grow in cold weather.

The use of green manures is an important part of organic growing. Two beds were sown with alflalfa in the spring. This is very deep rooting  so again useful for soil structure  and also bringing trace elements to the surface.  This will be overwintered and dug in next Spring after the tops are cut down for composting .

Also grown were Phacelia which has an extensive root system to improve soil structure and with dense foliage for smothering weeds. The blue flowers are very attractive to bees and benficial insects such as hoverflies which eat aphids. Fitting in with the legumes red clover was sown which  is one of the best varieties for fixing nitrogen from the air , weed suppression and improving soil structure. Trefoil will tolerate some shade and is useful for undersowing once crops are established such as sweetcorn. It is good at fixing nitrogen and once the crop is cut down it can be left overwinter to protect the soil. Trefoil was also sown on a small area in the glasshouse which will be dug in before planting up with winter salads. There is one more green manure to sow which is field beans after summer legumes and in parts of the glasshouse and polytunnel after the tomatoes and cucumbers have finished. They germinate well in colder weather and can be sown from September to November.

sweetcorn undersown with trefoil

sweetcorn undersown with trefoil





We have a few chickens up at the farmhouse and the problem of them pecking holes in their own eggs was solved in 3 ways: The placing of golf balls in their nesting boxes acted as a deterrent towards further pecking of rounded objects, a dietary supplement of broken shell solved their calcium craving and Mr Fox made off with the chief protagonists for his dinner! The remaining chickens were penned in behind electric fences and have maintained numbers (18) since the dreadful discovery. They are due to be joined by 20 newcomer hens this week. The Gardening Team have done their best to mentally prepare Russell, the sole cockerel, for their arrival.

The potager at the farmhouse was an abundance of colour throughout the summer. This along with other areas will be available for public appreciation next year through the National Gardens Scheme on 1st July.


Potager in July

The Physic Garden and thyme clock has also excelled in colour and variety

physic garden

Thyme clock and Physic Garden

physic garden

Physic Garden in July

For Neal’s Yard remedies we have harvested chickweed , oats , and elderberries. Last week competition winners from Neal’s Yard spent a day at Sheepdrove and helped with harvesting hawthorn berries. These are used in combination with other herbs to help lowering high blood pressure.

We made more charcoal with the large burner . This is sold at the conference centre and at the shops in London and Bristol. Our lumpwood charcoal gets hot very quickly and saves that time waiting for your barbecue to warm up before you can start cooking.

charcoal burner

Charcoal Burner

wood burning

Wood burning before sealing

Throughout August we spent many early mornings team ragwort pulling in one of the woods which was thick with it. There were thousands of them and, volunteers from the kitchen, farm, garden and office as well as the owners came in at 7.30am come rain or shine to pull up every single plant by hand. With a unique sense of teamwork, humour, belonging and passion for what Sheepdrove stands for, a labourious task was made light. After an hour or two’s ragwort tugging, there is nothing better than the succulent bacon and sausage rolls received gratefully from the chef at the Conference Centre

ragwort pulling

Team ragwort pulling

If you have managed to follow this to the end you now reach the funny moments to report. One colleague while strimming around the farmhouse managed to lose his car keys from his pocket. Although not funny at the time in retrospect we can laugh about it. We found someone who had a metal detector and after 2.5 hours searching finally found his keys and he was able to get home that evening.

For those of you that remember the Basil Fawlty episode when he threatened his car we had similar incident here. Another colleague disappeared and came back with the following:

basil fawlty moment

I'm going to give you a damn good thrashing

The same person also had her hair adhered securely to a yellow sticky trap causing an impromptu hair cut as the only safe way of release.

So autumn is here and the ever-present winds up on this ridge continue and the temperature is beginning to fall overnight.. The spiders have made their way into the greenhouse and the wasps are drunk and dangerous amongst the windfall apples. The mornings can be chilly though the afternoon sun we sometimes see is glorious and there is a beautiful quality of light over Lambourn Valley, rich and with a tint of orange.


Organic Gardening and Poker

8 May, 2011

What a relief to get some rain this weekend. Everything was getting desperate for it. The young trees we planted to create wind breaks for extra bee hives have been suffering the most although we have been watering them regularly from a water bowser. The calendula ( for the bees) was sown after rain was forecast the previous weekend but hopefully now this should all germinate well. All the new planting and direct sowing of vegetables were watered in rotation overnight using a timer and oscillating sprinkler..

Plenty of vegetables are now planted out mostly under fleece and we have been harvesting radish, lettuce and asparagus for a few weeks. The first bed of carrots has germinated but unfortunately I missed the pre-emergence flame weeding as it came up very quickly . The first bed was a mixture of varieties including Chantenay,  Fly Away, Yellowstone, White Satin and Purple Haze. The second bed of Autumn King is now sown. The early Tomatoes , Cucumbers and Peppers planted in the heated glasshouse are thriving.

salad leaves

Clockwise: giant red mustard, endive, mizuna, purslane


Peppers, Tomatoes and Cucumbers

The Potager and gravel garden are transformed now. We have begun to plant the Potager with  early annuals and vegetables ; cornflower black boy and diadem, poppies black paeony and blackcurrant fizz, nicotiana fragrant cloud , verbena bonariensis , Italian, French and moss curled parsley, Bulls Blood beetroot and a mixture of lettuce.


Potager. Spot the cat.

Gravel Garden

In June we will be running a charcoal making day so we did a trial run in a large oil drum. Including preparation it took about 6hours before it was ready to close up and leave overnight. The quantity of wood put in reduces to about  a fifth but  we had some good charcoal on inspection the next day.

charcoal making

Initial Burning of wood

charcoal making

Partial sealing of drum


Charcoal the following day

This week  people involved with Neal’s Yard Remedies came down for a day at Sheepdrove and to help harvesting Nettles (Urtica Dioica), Cleavers (Galium Aparine) and Comfrey(Symphytum Officinale).

Dragana tells us about nettles

nettle harvesting

Harvesting Nettles

Dried nettles are a natural anti-histamine and also have anti-asthmatic properties. For hundreds of years they have been used to treat painful muscles and joints and arthritis. Also used now for urinary problems.

Dried or fresh cleavers is said to have anti-inflammatory , astringent, diaphoretic, stimulant and diuretic properties.

Comfrey has a long history of use to promote the healing of bones and wounds and internal use to treat ailments such as arthritis and ulcers.

Russel the rooster has been getting a little shifty this month and I was kung fu kicked on the leg and a colleague was also attacked.

We have now had two Sheepdrove poker tournaments . The first one was taken down by Cool Hand Luke who unfortunately couldn’t defend his title last week as they are lambing on the farm. This weeks game was a re-buy which was won by Raise Every Hand Suzi. Best hand of the night involved 4 players with 3 all in and two flushes . The Queen high flush was beaten by the Ace high flush and 2 players were knocked out. It was the second time of the night our IT man was beaten by a higher flush which was very unlucky.

poker tournament

May rebuy-tournament. Who has all the chips already?

Jobs for the next month. Planting tomatoes , cucumbers, peppers and aubergines in polytunnel and cold glasshouse.  Sowing winter vegetables. Lots of hoeing and weeding. Ridging up potatoes. Cutting down cow parsley through woodland around farmhouse gardens. Planting later annuals and vegetables in potager and herbs in Physic garden

Organic Gardening

20 March, 2011

The last month has gone by very quickly and with reasonably dry weather we have got on well outside but there is also always plenty of glasshouse work at this time of year with sowing and pricking out and potting on.

We harvested the first forced Rhubarb at the end of February helped on by a relatively mild spell.

forced rhubarb

Forced Rhubarb

Most of the winter Brassicas are now finished and sprout stalks and kale stalks have been chopped up and added to the compost. The ground from these will have manure dug in or rotovated . My preference is always for partial double digging ( forking over the base of the trench)  if time permits. Unfortunately very little of the purple sprouting broccoli survived the severe weather in December.

To help to fill the hungry gap we are now growing sprouting seeds although this will continue all year. These have gone down very well at the conference centre with everyone enjoying the extra flavours. Its been so successful that we have invested in another automatic seed sprouter .As well as those below we are also growing Fenugreek and Buckwheat. Initially they were taking about 7 days from sowing before ready for use but with warmer weather this has reduced to 5-6 days depending on the type of seeds.

sprouting seeds

Sunflower                 Alfalfa

China rose radish  Broccoli  C.R.Radish    Mustard   Mustard

sprouting seeds

China Rose Radish and Mustard

Plenty of young plants are ready to plant out after hardening off in the frames. Most crops are started off in the propagator in modules including multi-seeded onions. Celery and Celeriac (at the front in the picture) are sown in trays and pricked out into modules. After they are established they are moved to a cooler glasshouse as in the picture.

Vegetables and Flowers in Modules

The first batch of lettuce and brassica’s are already planted out under fleece and the first outdoor sown radish also sown and covered with fleece are now up. First broad beans started in the glasshouse in pots are planted and these will continue to be sown at 2-3 week intervals. Parsnips are sown and covered with environmesh which helps to speed up germination as they are usually so slow.

Plenty of herbs are on the go with a selection of basil, mixture of parsley, burnet, chervil, coriander, dill and sorrel.

On the flower side sweet peas are hardening off ready for planting and nasturtiums, viola, nicotiana, poppies, cornflower and schizanthus have been sown and some already pricked out.

All spring pruning is done and most of the mulching is done  with just some areas of the Physic garden to complete.

The first grass cut this year was on 7th March around the vegetable garden, potager and farmhouse.

Jobs for the next month will include marking out all the beds for planting vegetables. They will all be grown on 4’ (120cm) beds. Its not quite a raised bed system but once they are marked out with the 1’(30cm) paths all planting , weeding , hoeing will be done from the paths to maintain a good soil structure for the growing crops. Perennial herbs lost over winter will be replaced.

SLOW FOOD – Wild Game – Fri 26 Nov

29 October, 2010

Yes, another great event by Slow Food Berkshire and Wiltshire!

Wild Game Preparation Evening and Supper

Friday 26 Nov 2010 @ 7pm

Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Lambourn. LOCATION MAP + DIRECTIONS

This is a real hands-on adventure into country cuisine. Preparing wild game for the table will be demonstrated by gamekeepers, and then you get to have a go for yourself. Followed by supper in the rather grand dining room of the Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, which is always delightful and delicious.

Naturally we need to know the numbers for supper so please reserve your place as soon as possible!

Slow Food members: £20      non-members: £25

For further details please contact or call 01672 541695.

Bats on night vision

20 August, 2010

Following up the story about bats living with us at the Eco Conference Centre… we added a video clip to the Sheepdrove website. The weird, green footage was shot in night vision to help us see the bats in the dark. Watch the bat video…

Sound Beginnings

14 May, 2009

Concert for Babies and Young Children

Hundreds of children and parents gathered in the majestic Oak Room for today’s concerts at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre .

Classical music played by Mikhail Kazakevich (piano) and Sarah Austin (flute) combined with a stunning light show, altogether an enchanting experience.  Maxine Parsons led the event… an expert educator who welcomed the children and introduced the musicians as people who make classical music accessible to young children.

Juliet and Peter Kindersley believe music is very important for children as part of learning and growing up. Read more about Sound Beginnings… Mikhail Kazakevich solos on a piano music CD compiled by the Kindersleys, called The Healing Power of the Mozart Effect. We sell the CD at Sheepdrove’s web shop. Find it  in our gift section…

Part of the Newbury Spring Festival – there were 3 concerts today, with family tea after each. All organic food, of course. Some families dined alfresco in the Physic Garden, which is a beautiful collection of medicinal and edible herbs, coloured with zestfully fragrant flowers.

There is a rumour that the venue might host performances of The Nutcracker this Christmas. Mikhail told us, “I love the Nutcracker music, it is beautiful, powerful. The story has many layers, the transformations have deep meaning, when you look into it.”

Look out for more news at this blog…

Owl network celebrates 21st

6 April, 2009

Now 21 years old, the Barn Owl Conservation Network celebrated its ‘coming of age’ at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre during the weekend.

2009 BOCN Symposium

Juliet Kindersley welcomed 120 delegates from across the UK and Ireland for the Barn Owl Conservation Network Symposium 2009.  Juliet established the Sheepdrove Trust, which funds the BOCN – a Network of dedicated people who strive to save the nation’s favourite owl.

“What you do for barn owls all over the country is very important work.” Juliet told the audience.

She recalled how, back in the 1990s, her owl nestbox set in a new barn very soon attracted a Barn Owl. Juliet and Peter Kindersley contacted the BOCN and received expert advice on how to develop the provision of nestboxes and habitat across the farm as it grew.

Today up to five breeding pairs of Barn Owl live at Sheepdrove Organic Farm and all five British owl species use its rich landscape. Sheepdrove’s success story echoes the many examples that the Network advisors have achieved nationwide – working  in partnership with farmers, landowners, agencies and volunteers.

By promoting creation of the essential rough grass habitat that barn owls require, and the careful location of nestboxes, the Network has recorded a rise in Barn Owl populations wherever they have worked. Overall, the emerging evidence suggests a significant population recovery – a scientific national survey is needed to confirm the growth. However, the Barn Owl is still vulnerable and remains on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Knowledge shared through the BOCN has advanced the understanding of the ecology of the owls, based on many years of monitoring and study by many dedicated groups and individuals.

Speakers delivered presentations about a range of topics and reflected what has been learned from over two decades of Barn Owl conservation and study.

bocn speakers 2009

Bob Sheppard summarised 25 years of owl conservation in Lincolnshire, Mark Grantham (BTO) looked at 100 years of bird ringing, Alex Copland and John Lusby (BirdWatch Ireland) explored the latest knowledge about the Barn Owl in Eire, Paddy Jackson investigated double brooding, Karen Davies (FWAG) highlighted the best options for owls in Environmental Stewardship (the grant scheme for farmers),  Bernard Wright and Roy Leigh summarised 25 years of work in Cheshire, and Colin Shawyer reviewed the work of the BOCN.

Symposium papers will be brought together with county-based reports from the Network, and published as a collection to illustrate the progress made by the Barn Owl Conservation Network over its twenty one years.

BOCN Symposium set to go

3 April, 2009

oakroom-ready200We look forward to greeting the 120 delegates booked for Saturday’s symposium for the Barn Owl Conservation Network. Colin Shawyer chairs the conference, which includes speakers and network advisors from across the UK and Ireland.

2009 BOCN Symposium details…

Green materials at the Eco Conference Centre

12 March, 2009
The Oak Room at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre

Having been to several exhibitions on ‘eco building’, it quickly becomes obvious that more and more companies are trying to sell their goods and services by using a big ‘environment friendly’ message. Everything from PVC to concrete. But not all eco materials are born equal!

Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, with its Douglas Fir timber frame, re-used foundations, rammed chalk wall, shingles of Western Red Cedar, is an outstanding example of eco architecture. The SECC won a special award for its sustainable design in the 2005 Civic Trust Awards, for its efficiency in energy and water use, as well as the eco-friendly materials used in the unique construction, interior and furniture.

Juliet and Peter Kindersley had a strong ethical vision for the building, and a sense of the cultural atmosphere that the conference centre should have when it came to life. As a result of the creative input from Juliet and Peter, there are many beautiful touches to the interior design, some of which draw attention to the eco-friendly materials around you.

The grand, white wall of chalk is reused material, originally being dug out to clear the way for the west wing of the building. The bathrooms are adorned with panels made out of recycled shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes – and the sinks sparkle with thousands of fragments from recycled CDs! The green credentials of the toilets are completed with the water-saving taps and loos, and even the paints are environment-friendly and water-based.

Our recycled plastic sinks and loo panels were supplied by Smile Plastics ( whose products also feature in the Kitchens of Recycled Content ( How brilliant that these products are now more available than ever to mainstream consumers! To any green-minded kitchen makers and interior designers, Revolve-UK’s coasters made of recycled yoghurt pots might be of interest too.

The construction trade might soon use recycled plastic shuttering made by 2k Manufacturing. Why would that be better than wooden shuttering? The key to a green star for this EcoSheet is that, if broken, it can be reconstituted and used again. The special processes employed by 2k Manufacturing means that the shuttering  would not be thrown away – as happens with the marine plywood on most building sites.

Jason Ball at

Why a sustainable conference venue?

27 November, 2008

The first UK sustainable conference venue Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre

Why build an eco-friendly conference facility?

In the case of Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, it was because we wanted a ‘green’ conference centre that reflected the ethos of Sheepdrove Organic Farm; the key messages being sustainability, eco-friendliness and biodiversity. And it’s like no other conference centre you’ve ever been to (in a good way, we promise!) – the first of its kind in Europe, we held our first conference in 2003 (for DEFRA) and have grown more successful with every passing year. Visit our website at  for more details about the building and its ‘Green Features’.

Just another conference centre?

Mention the words ‘conference centre’ or ‘external meeting’ to a friend or colleague and they will probably groan and cite harsh strip lighting, uncomfortable chairs, depressing or drab town centre venues, uninspired catering and a lack of parking as major bugbears when they have to attend them. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Thousands of the happy, invigorated delegates who have passed through the doors of Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre would tell a very different story – here are some of the things they love about us…

Built for comfort

How does a huge, squashy sheepskin beanbag instead of a chair sound to you? Twelve live permanently in the Rook’s Nest – a quirky, circular room much beloved of groups wanting a cosy bolthole that will inspire creativity. A dozen more are dotted here and there throughout the centre and delegates are welcome, in fact positively encouraged, to make use of them if they wish during meetings.

Many regular clients request ‘the beanbag layout’ time after time and it’s lovely to see a group relaxing in our rooms, happily ensconced in the beanbags. But don’t worry if this doesn’t appeal – we do have chairs too! They’re ergonomically designed to prevent fatigue and encourage good posture.

Unique rural location

We’re situated on a 2,250 acre working organic farm. How many other conference centres can say that? High up on the Berkshire Downs, we’re in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and have a wonderfully remote feel. Even so, we’re just 15 minutes from junction 14 of the M4 so we’re easily accessible (even delegates flying into Heathrow can get to us in an hour).

Being right at the heart of the farm means that delegates very often see our organically reared chickens, sheep, cattle and pigs grazing at close quarters – they love to see the chicks sunning themselves in our specially built conservatories, or watching our lambs and piglets charging about wildly! We even have three resident alpacas who graze the land and are employed to guard our sheep and chicken flocks against fox predation, and we offer tours of the farm on specially adapted trailers…

Nourishing, seasonal organic food

We serve only the finest organic, seasonal food – our vegetables come from our own garden and our meat is reared on the farm. Cooking in harmony with the seasons ensures delegates eat only what’s freshest and most abundant at the time of year.

Our current winter menu makes good use of our delicious, nutty squash & pumpkins, vitamin-packed kale and leafy cabbage and sweet, earthy beetroot, parsnips and celeriac. Our divine desserts might include sticky toffee pudding, chocolate fondant and seasonal fruit crumbles. Carnivores will devour our fabulous beef tagine, pork & apple casserole, sausage and mash made using proper Sheepdrove bangers or our creamy chicken & ham pie – that’s real comfort food! Vegetarians don’t miss out either – as well as all of those fresh vegetables, we make wonderful meat-free tarts, roulades and pies.

Delegates rave about our breakfasts! Companies can pre-order breakfast for hungry delegates; they can help themselves to our Sheepdrove bacon butties – freshly baked, still-warm rolls packed with our own organic bacon, or the more substantial ‘Breakfast on the Run’ – a portable feast of bacon, sausages, scrambled egg, rolls and muffins that’ll really set them up for the day. And that’s not all – mid-morning, they are treated to mouthwatering, home-made biscuits and, if they still have room, scrumptious home-made cakes in the afternoon!

Inspiring rooms, fabulous ambience……..

Our spacious, light, naturally ventilated rooms inspire and delight our delegates. The groundbreaking architecture of the centre is amazing and the most common reaction from delegates upon entering the centre is ‘WOW!’.

an alternative angle to architectureNo harsh lighting, noisy air conditioning or dull rooms here – the spaces are sympathetically lit with daylight and highly energy-efficient bulbs. There are plenty of windows so you truly do have ‘a room with a view’. The room temperatures are naturally comfortable because the building’s design makes the most of natural ventilation and light whilst being well insulated. But despite the natural feel of the rooms, each has the very latest audiovisual technology in situ – and everything, from the lighting to the lectern PC, is operated at the touch of a button – it’s foolproof!

Like what you’ve read?

Give us a ring to find out more or, better still, come up to the centre and see us – we love having visitors and showing people around. Our small, dedicated conference team is passionate about the centre and once you’ve seen it, we know you will be too. We’ll even throw in lunch! Now how can you resist an offer like that…? Call Kate on 01488 674737, or email us at See you soon!