Archive for the ‘events’ Category

The Gardening Year

29 November, 2012

Way back in March in that glorious warm sunny week it all looked so promising for the year ahead. We got some early carrots sown then which was just as well because some of the later sowings produced nothing even with two attempts. Then it all changed to a mostly cold wet summer and party time for slugs and snails.

Snails in the Physic Garden

The plums had plenty blossom but as it turned colder and wetter there weren’t many bees about for good pollination . Whereas last year we harvested full crates this time it was merely a handful. Apples were looking the same but in the end we did manage to fill about three quarters of the cold store.

Plum in Blossom

With all the wet weather this Summer it was very rarely dry enough to do any hoeing so there was a lot of hand weeding and it was a struggle to keep on top of this. Weeding some of the early crops was not a fun task in cold weather as you can see from below as a colleague weeds parsnips in full winter gear. Our chef @suzi4goodfood used the thinnings from the parsnips and carrots for some tasty new season meals.

Weeding parsnips in freezing early May

Despite the difficulty of getting carrots to germinate we did get a very good crop with the variety chantenay red cored being a great success. We also grew some wonderfully wacky shaped carrots of white satin.

Chantenay Red Cored

White Satin

With the incessant rain all the root crops did well with good beetroot , carrots , parsnips and celeriac. It actually shows how much water these need to bulk them up to a good size. The only really failure this year was onions which obviously don’t like the cold and wet and some of them just sat there all season making very little growth and resulting in a very poor harvest. Early potatoes Amorosa (red) and Charlotte were again a great success and went down well at the conference centre.

Amorosa and Charlotte

I wasn’t sure we would get any pumpkins this year as even under fleece in the cold the plants struggled to get going but in the end we got some monsters.

Lovely Pumpkins

Pumpkins on storage shelves

We supply some of the herbs for Neal’s Yard Remedies and keeping the Calendula clean required another hand weeding effort but it was well worth it. We managed to send the flower heads most weeks through the summer somehow finding dry spells for harvesting. Picking the flowers was usually a team effort with help from the office staff who were glad to get outside for an hour.

Weeding Calendula

Calendula in the Neals Yard plot

Calendula harvest

At the conference centre once a month there is now a Shhhh secret supper club which has been a huge hit and are usually sold out within a few days of the tickets going on sale. See website for details  The idea had been to host them at various venues throughout the farm but this proved impossible with the poor weather . However in May we did manage a night outside in the Physic garden by the conference centre starting in the amphitheatre.

In the Amphitheatre

Another course…

We try to supply all the vegetables and fruit for these events and here is a selection harvested for one of the supper clubs.

Supper club vegetables and fruit

Sprouting seeds continue to go down well and there was plenty of colour to add to the chefs selection.

Giant red mustard , spinach beet , rhubarb , canary yellow and white chard.

Its always interesting to try and grow something new and this year we grew sweet potatoes in the glasshouse border and another first for me was borlotti beans. Its a very exposed site at the walled vegetable garden so growing anything tall is not easy but the beans did reasonably well . The sweet potatoes on the other hand although they grew well we only harvested very small tubers .I think we will leave this one for warmer countries. Until this year I didn’t even know they were a member of the bindweed family and it was interesting asking visitors to the glasshouse what they thought was growing.

Borlotti beans drying in the glasshouse

The farm was eventually given permission to install a small wind turbine which was put up earlier in the year in the paddock below the walled garden . Its nearly always windy here although there have been a few rare occasions when it has stopped and birds settled on the propellers.

Turbine with carrots and parsnips

We have a few chickens up at the farmhouse to provide eggs for the conference centre and I was reminded of ‘Chicken Run’ when Russell the rooster tried to make a break for it hitching a ride in the back of our electric buggy.

Russell hatches another escape plan

During the summer a Pyromaniac hit our compost bins.

Burning compost bins

He was trying to hide but we caught him.

You can’t hide in there

In October the Berkshire Countryside Volunteers came to help for a day which included a lovely lunch at the conference centre. One of their tasks was helping to harvest celeriac for storing .If you would like to Volunteer at Sheepdrove see the contact details at the bottom of this link.

Harvesting Celeriac

Now we are making Christmas wreaths for the shops. Lets hope next year will be easier for growers with lots more sun and a lot warmer.

Time to rest up for the winter

Bio-bed demo at Upper Lambourn

29 November, 2010

Not far from here, there is a workshop on biobeds… it’s something for non-organic farmers but anything to reduce pesticide pollution has got to be good. 

Wednesday 1st Dec 2010
9.45am for a 10am start.

This is a free event to hear from the experts on how to do it and what funding is available.
Bill Basford (independant Biobed specialist) will discuss biobed construction and management. Jeanette Wooster from the Environment Agency will advise on consents and Andrew Fielder from Catchment Sensitive Farming will deal with funding availability.

Event location:

Nugent Farms Ltd
Upper Lambourn
RG17 8NF

By kind permission of David Barratt

Here’s the Biobed event flyer (location map, etc)

To book your place call 0300 060 1695 or email

Wildlife talks at Letcombe Bassett

17 November, 2010

Thursday 25 Nov 2010 
starts 7.30pm

An event for the Friends of the Ridgeway at Letcombe Bassett village hall. Jason Ball will give a presentation about wildlife at the farm, and then one about owls – featuring the work of the Lambourn Valley Barn Owl Group.

Talk titles:

  1. Sheepdrove’s Wild Side
  2. Barn Owls and their conservation

A charge of £3 will be made for non-members. Annual Membership of the Friends of the Ridgeway is £5.

Farm Wildlife events (Nov 2010)

16 November, 2010

These latest volunteer tasks are in association with the local branch of Butterfly Conservation. Coming soon, the 2011 event list for the Lambourn Valley Barn Owl Group.

Contact us: Please tell us if you wish to attend a task – it is vital to our preparation. Please email Jason Ball or call Jason on 01488 674727. What to bring: Please bring a packed lunch – we will picnic on the farm! Bring clothes ready for any weather and sensible boots or wellies. Meet here: The farm office, at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, Sheepdrove Road, Lambourn, Berkshire. Map and directions here…

Saturday 27 Nov 2010

Scrub up for Butterflies! 10am – 3pm
Join us for some scrub planting & woodland edge cutting. We aim to create scrubby edge habitat to benefit butterflies and moths.  They love the shelter effect as well as the nectar – and some species will eat the trees at caterpillar stage.

In association with Butterfly Conservation’s Upper Thames branch. Be sure to bring a packed lunch and wrap up warm with outdoor clothes and boots. Bring garden gloves if you have them – we have spares too. We will provide tools and tea – so please tell us if you’re coming. Call us on 01488 674727.

(PLEASE NOTE –  some steep slopes and uneven ground).

Monday 29 Nov 2010

Scrub up for Butterflies! (second session) 10am – 3pm
Scrub planting & woodland edge cutting. Details as per Saturday’s task.


This is part of the Sheepdrove Rare Butterfly Project – and we’re helping moths too. We are planting native Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and Barberry (Berberis vulgaris). We ordered locally-grown trees from Murray Maclean at Frilford, tel: 01865 391242.

Hawthorn will provide shade and shelter in years to come. I’ve seen small bushes make a big difference for some butterflies on a windy day. Cowslips already grow in our target areas – and I hope that in future we’ll see the endangered Duke of Burgundy arrive at Sheepdrove.

Barberry is the caterpillar food plant for the cute Barberry Carpet moth – probably locally extinct because barberry shrubs were ripped out of England’s hedges. It harbours a rust fungus that affects cereal, but modern varieties are resistant to the disease, so we’re bringing this bush back. Hopefully the moths will find it one day – Barberry Carpet has been found in western Oxfordshire. Meanwhile the Barberry is a wonderful food source for bees and birds.

Your spade work could leave a lasting legacy! Please join us on a task, we’d love you to be part of the project.

Jason Ball
Manager for Biodiversity and Alternative Energy
01488 674727

More wildlife events and volunteer tasks…

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.


11 October, 2010

Sheepdrove has won a special award for its work with schools. Russell Downing, who coordinated a food and cookery project with local schools in partnership with the Newbury and District Agricultural Society, received the Business Ambassador Award from Educational Business Partnership West Berkshire. Full story…

FOOD INC on tomorrow night!

23 September, 2010
Hungerford Food Festival  
FOOD, Inc – Film this Fri 24 Sept 7.30pm Croft Hall Hungerford RG17 0HY
Introduced by Peter Kindersley.

Gorgeous local flowers at wedding

13 September, 2010

I just loved the displays of fantastic OXFORDSHIRE GROWN flowers at the wedding yesteray at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre.

The wedding flowers were provided by the brilliant Green and Gorgeous who also sell flowers at a few of their local farmers’ markets. See their blog…

Locally grown flowers fit perfectly with the ethos of the venue, of course, and the family’s wedding organisers also collected wild ivy from the farm to adorn the Oak Room, doorways and arches. The place looked great!

Jason Ball

Meet us at the Organic Food Festival

8 September, 2010

Aren’t you going to be at the OFF in Bristol this weekend? Why not meet us at stall 90?

Location: Bristol Harbourside, Anchor Road, Bristol, BS1 5DB.

Monty Don says: “The Organic Food Festival is a celebration of all that sustainable food and farming is and can be. I urge you to come along and enjoy the best of organic produce, health and beauty products and textiles – and talk to the people that grew, nurtured or produced them.”

For more on the 2010 Organic Food Festival, see here

Oxfordshire Nature Conservation Forum to visit rare butterfly project

26 May, 2010

ONCF will visit Sheepdrove Rare Butterfly Project in early July. If you’re interested in joining their visit, or learning more about nature conservation issues in Oxfordshire, contact the ONCF.

About the butterfly project

Sheepdrove Organic Farm is developing a sanctuary for butterflies in a hidden valley where the Vale of the White Horse gallops onto the Lambourn Downs. Having escaped the plough for centuries, a steep bank at Cockcrow Bottom hosts a variety of chalk grassland wildflowers, including Devil’s-bit Scabious – the caterpillar food plant for Marsh Fritillary. This rare butterfly survives in a very isolated colony on the far side of Lambourn, some 3km away. The farm’s resident ecologist, Jason Ball, realised they had a potential extra site for Marsh Fritillary, if only they could manage the habitat to suit it.

Butterfly Conservation, Natural England, Flora Locale, BBOWTLambourn Valley Countryside Project and FWAG all helped to inform the restorative management on the 2.2 hectare plot. The Forestry Commission also helped enormously by agreeing changes in management for a 4.2 ha area of tree plantation which the farm has dedicated to providing habitat for Marsh Fritillary.

Previously, part of the bank was excluded from grazing, and part was being grazed strongly – each extreme unsuitable for producing the right sward characteristics to suit Marsh Fritillary. During 2009, Natural England agreed to environmental stewardship funding to re-fence and graze with cattle. 

With help from volunteers and staff, the farm planted extra Devil’s-bit Scabious, in addition to establishing Kidney Vetch for Small Blue, and Horseshoe Vetch for Chalkhill Blue. As management improves the potential for these species to start new breeding colonies in the Lambourn Downs, the chalk flora community will benefit too. The project at Sheepdrove shows the potential for more such sites across the local landscape.

Find more information and pictures at

Jason Ball