Posts Tagged ‘eco-friendly’

Organic Gardening and Woodlands

2 March, 2012

Its far too long since I wrote my last blog so its time for an update with all that has been going on in the gardening department and around sheepdrove.

After a mostly mild winter apart from the severe cold in February the snowdrops are out and the glasshouses are reaching temperatures well over 20degrees on sunny days so Spring is at last on the way.


Rainbow over the walled garden in October

Physic Garden

Physic Garden in February

Hungarian rye sown in the Autumn established really well and we are in the process of digging this in now incorporating manure too to provide plenty of nutrients for this years crops which in this area will be kale, sprouts and winter cabbage

Hungarian Rye

Hungarian Rye in September

hungarian rye

Hungarian Rye in February

After the summer crops of Tomatoes and Cucumbers field beans were sown in areas in the glasshouses and polytunnel which will also be dug in soon. This is very hardy and suitable for overwintering with deep roots which fix nitrogen. Its an experiment under cover but we will see how it works.

field beans

Field Beans in Glasshouse

Winter salads were planted in other areas through mipex in the polytunnel & glasshouse; mizuna, winter purslane , winter cress, chicory sugar loaf, endive markant, oriental mibuna and giant red mustard. Unfortunately we have had a mouse problem in the polytunnel and lost probably half the crop which would be ready to harvest now although we have been using small amounts through the winter. They will be replaced shortly by a spring sown crop which are in cells ready to plant as soon as we have got on top of the mice. Spring cabbage (pixie and winter green) planted in the glasshouse in the autumn is starting to heart up where there was frost protection heating and in the cold glasshouse this will follow on.An early crop of carrots will also be sown in the polytunnel and some carrots and radish in the glasshouse.

salads in polytunnel

Winter Salads in Polytunnel

chicory sugar loaf

chicory sugar loaf

winter cress

winter cress

Chilli plants were kept in heated glasshouse at 10-12 degrees C and we even picked some ripe chillies in December.

We had a good apple harvest and these are stored in cold chiller kept at below 4 degrees C. Carrots and beetroot were also stored in here.

apple store

apple store

The volunteers who help here one day a week helped us erect two new footbridges down at the lake. For more information on  volunteering at Sheepdrove go to Volunteers Build New Bridge

bridge building team

bridge building team

In December we make wreaths for the shops , farmhouse and conference centre. The hoops are made from willow woven together and the moss and plant material comes from the farm.

wreath making

Volunteer Richard making his first wreath

In December it was all hands to the deck to get the Christmas meat orders out and here is our butcher Nick from our Bristol shop making sausages. Nick also writes a regular blog ; Nick’s Blog

Nick making sausages

Nick making sausages

Through the winter we have been doing a lot of work in Nut wood renovating an ancient woodland to bring it back into a proper coppicing rotation .It was a daunting task when we began clearing an area buried in brambles 2m tall and completely entangled . However with help from volunteers and other staff we managed to overcome it. Its necessary to dig the roots out with the buds otherwise they will just grow back. This area is now planted up with 50 young hazels.


The task ahead

The Nut Wood Team

The Nut Wood Team

New Hazels Planted

New Hazels Planted

We grow a range of plants to supply Neal’s Yard Remedies. The plot is being redeveloped to make it more of a feature for visitors to Sheepdrove. The east end was ploughed before the severe frosts in February which broke up the soil nicely. It will have boarding edging added to make 3 new sections. There is a couch grass problem in certain areas so one plot will be covered completely with mipex for a season. Potatoes will be grown on another bad patch which will give us a chance to dig out more couch grass at harvest. . This year we are trying some heritage varieties ; Shetland Black & Highland Burgundy. We have recently planted more garlic in one of the new sections which had been overwintered in cell trays in frames.

Early vegetables are ready to be planted out under Fleece throughout this month and its time to do the Spring pruning of shrubs.

Events coming up this year are Lambing day on May12th and we should have some vegetable, bedding and pot plants to sell. On July 1st the gardens are open with the National Gardens Scheme which will include the walled vegetable garden, the farmhouse garden, the Physic garden and a guided tour through Nut wood and around the reed beds


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.

Beat the credit crunch! Adding value to your conferences

1 December, 2008

Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre – the best value for money

The effects of the current economic downturn are being felt far and wide, and the hospitality industry is no exception. Hotels and conference venues are reporting last-minute cancellations, fewer bookings and a reduced level of enquiries. We’re all feeling the pinch, but at Sheepdrove Eco Conference centre we’re confident that we can offer unbeatable service and the best value for money in these tough times. Here are four ways you can save money on your conferencing costs by choosing us!

Free wi-fi access

Many venues charge for the use of their wi-fi – some run a voucher system whereby you can purchase wi-fi time in increments (5, 10, 15 minutes etc.). Others only include it in the principal room. At Sheepdrove Eco Conference centre, however, wi-fi access is completely free – and it’s available throughout the entire building.

Free parking

Attend a conference in a town or city centre venue and the chances are the car parking charges will be sky-high – sometimes well over £10 for a day. For companies running a large conference, or picking up the tab on behalf of their employees, this can make a huge difference to costs. We have space for over a hundred cars here – and they’re all absolutely free of charge. That will save you a few pounds on parking!

No hidden extras

Our day delegate packages include absolutely everything you need to run your meeting effectively and smoothly – there are no additional charges for the use of flipcharts or audiovisual equipment, no forking out more for refreshments – we serve delicious home-made organic biscuits and cakes as standard at breaktimes. And you can have as much tea, coffee and mineral water as you like – you won’t pay a penny extra for top-ups.

No price rises for 2009

Our day delegate rate of just £60 has remained unchanged for the last two years – and we’ve no plans to increase it for 2009. Taking into account the new, lower VAT rate of 15%, conferences here at Sheepdrove just became cheaper than ever before.

To enquire about availability, give Kate a call on 01488 674737 or email us at Our website, gives detailed descriptions and pictures of rooms, plus testimonials from satisfied customers!

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!

I was never a plastic bag!

3 November, 2008

Sturdy jute shopping bags are one of the latest ethically-made products now available from our online shop! These bags-for-life are bestsellers at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, and now they join our new lines on offer at the web shop.

Naturally we’re all for the cultural shift that is taking place as everyone, it seems, believes in less waste, even perhaps a ban on plastic shopping bags! Our very own Elwyn (maintenance) is a keen scuba diver and has seen first-hand the plastic rubbish littering the sea. Jute is biodegradable, and when you read the label, you discover that the makers teamed up with Climate Care and “this is the first bag of its kind that carries the climate neutral endorsement.”

Enjoy our growing shopping experience at – where we can help you to find green gift ideas for life, not just for Christmas!

Carbon Counter Carbon Counter
Price: £4.99 (each)
Calculate your carbon footprint and find out to how to reduce it.
More Information
You Have Two Cows You Have Two Cows
Price: £3.95 (each)
Words of wisdom from the walls of our Eco Conference Centre.
A delightful selection of quotations compiled by Rosie Kindersley.
More Information

Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre

11 August, 2008

Looking for a venue that’s green, eco-friendly, sustainable?
Look no further!

Sustainably designed and run, with its groundbreaking architecture and exceptional location high on the Berkshire Downs, Sheepdrove defines a new approach to conference venues. Just 15 minutes from the M4 and less than one hour from Heathrow Airport, this purpose built centre is housed in a beautiful, eco-friendly building, set at the heart of our farm.

Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre has a uniquely creative, welcoming atmosphere to inspire fresh thinking, motivate delegates and offer a real taste of organic, seasonal produce. All our clients love the experience and the great customer service – which is why we won the accolade of 2008 Most Excellent Dedicated Venue in the Condé Nast Johansens annual awards.

Contact our friendly team to start planning your event with us.