Posts Tagged ‘food’

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.

Organic Gardening

12 February, 2011

From now on I will be periodically posting a blog of what we are up to in the gardens at Sheepdrove Organic Farm.

With snowdrops and winter aconites out Spring is at last on the way.

All the fruit plants and trees are now pruned including cutting the autumn fruiting raspberry  canes (Autumn Bliss) to the ground. All the fruit has been mulched with cow manure and compost. We have started forcing rhubarb keeping them in the dark with terra-cotta pots with straw added around these for extra warmth.

forcing rhubarb

Forcing Rhubarb

Some seeds are sown in the glasshouse borders to get some early radish and carrots. In the propagator we have underway a selection of cabbage, cauliflower and calabrese, various lettuces, beetroot (to plant out under glass), tomatoes ( for an early crop under heated glass), peppers and  Parsley (Italian Giant, Plain French and Moss Curled).Also in are the first batch of broad beans and some dwarf French beans to grow in the polytunnel. We are already harvesting Giant Red mustard, Endive ( variety Markant), Mizuna and Claytonia (Winter Purslane) which were overwintered in the glasshouse borders.


Endive 'Markant'



Giant Red Mustard

Having purchased a new shredder ( we are now recycling more waste. All pruned material up to 40mm now goes through the shredder and is added to the compost bins and anything bigger is used for firewood. Although it heats up very quickly on its own it is mixed with manure and vegetable waste. With all the extra material we needed more compost bins and while we were preparing for this clearing trees and roots and digging holes for the posts we accidently created a man trap. A holly needed trimming to make space and the branches were piled on the ground. My colleague then walked across the holly and fell straight through it into one of the holes we had just dug. This is a quick return of karma after he hit me in the face with a  wheel barrow handle while unloading it from the back of the truck last week.

On going jobs are the spring pruning of shrubs , roses  and herbs and cutting down the dead growth of any remaining  herbaceous perennials and herbs. The Potager and other borders are to be mulched with leaf mould and well rotted compost.

Seasonal Cooking at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre

25 November, 2008

Anyone happening to wander into the kitchen at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre in the mornings is likely to be greeted by a worktop groaning with seasonal produce picked from our garden that morning by our Head Gardener, Phil, waiting to be turned into any number of warming, inspiring seasonal dishes.

Seasonality is very much at the heart of our menus at Sheepdrove and meals are devised to make use of whatever is most abundant in the garden at that time of year. In addition to this, we try to grow traditional, hardy English varieties wherever we can – a quick chat with Phil reveals that we grow no less than five varieties of English apple.

As we head into winter our pumpkins, squash, beetroot, kale, parsnips and apples are all at their very best and Mel, our Head Chef, along with her team, work hard to create delicious, inviting lunches. In addition to the wide variety of vegetables grown here, we’re also lucky enough to be able to cook with the finest organic meats sourced straight from the farm – although vegetarian guests are equally well catered for. We always provide a creative vegetarian option (and usually find that the carnivores tuck in sneakily!) – our parsnip and cheese roulade is hard to beat and usually finds people queueing up for seconds.

Today’s delegates were presented with a choice of a hearty chicken and bacon pie, a pork, apple & cheese crumble or a pumpkin tart – served with garlic sauteed kale, carrot, swede & celeriac puree and homemade cheese & onion focaccia bread. For dessert, we served a sinful sticky toffee pudding – it’s a wonder the delegates made it back to their rooms!

As well as our passion for using seasonal vegetables, we love to make use of meat that is at its best at this time of year – our mutton season is now well under way and a rich, fruity mutton tagine or a velvety mutton and red wine casserole might well be featured on the menu in the forthcoming weeks. One thing is for sure – delegates never leave Sheepdrove hungry!

One of the dining room tables at lunchtime

Antibiotics in farming create superbugs like MRSA

22 August, 2008

Sheepdrove Organic Farm has written before about the huge problem of antibiotics in farming. We avoid them, as an organic farm. Our customers appreciate this, as do many food experts.

If you were worried about MRSA consider this – industrial food production is making things worse. Researchers are finding mulit-resistant bacteria in all sorts of places, and it is linked with the over-use of antibiotics in farm animal care.

New government figures show approximately 64% of all farm antibiotic use is in pigs, 32% in poultry, 3% in cattle, 1% in fish and less than 0.5% in sheep. [10] This demonstrates the huge reliance of the intensive pig and poultry industries on antibiotics. Grazing animals like cattle and sheep, on the other hand, are generally farmed less intensively, with greater access to the outdoors. As a result, they develop fewer diseases and do not need as many antibiotics. But some modern farms feed antibiotics as a matter of course – not just to cure an illness, which is the intended purpose.

The Soil Association has just made a press release about it. Richard Young, Soil Association policy adviser, said:

“We estimate that a move to less intensive, more health-oriented livestock farming, could reduce farm antibiotic use by up to 75%. This would help to safeguard the future effectiveness of critically important drugs, and over the coming years, save countless human lives.

“The Government needs to get a grip on the situation quickly. Despite a warning from the House of Lords in 1998 on the veterinary use of fluoroquinolones and the increasing concern of the WHO and European regulators more recently, it has taken no effective action, and the use of these life-saving drugs is now increasing exponentially, year after year.

“We accept there are occasions when these antibiotics should legitimately be used on farms to prevent the death or suffering of large mammals like cattle and pigs. But it is quite clear that through ignorance of the long-term consequences, many vets and farmers are still choosing them just because they are modern medicines, when for most conditions there are equally effective alternatives.”

Government figures just published show another big jump in the veterinary use of two of the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine. This is the sixth time in the last seven years that both fluoroquinolone and cephalosporin use has increased. In comparison with 2001, fluoroquinolone use in 2007 is up by 48% and cephalosporin use up by 138%. This despite large falls in livestock numbers over the same period. Since 2001 [4] pig numbers have fallen by 17%, poultry by 7%, cattle by 3% and sheep by 8%. [5]

Click here for the full press release and free downloads. (source: Soil Association)

Farmers Weekly SOS

1 August, 2008

“Save Our Sprays” – the plea from Farmers Weekly Magazine. Are they serious? Do the multinational chemical companies actually need a helping hand to fight against EU pesticide reform?

Poor old Monsanto and friends! In fact this review of harmful substances has been on the cards for a long time, so this latest bandwagonning seems rather desperate.

FW make big hypothetical statements “…the EU Commission could wipe out 80% of pesticides…” but other bodies reckon a 15% deselection of the most harmful compounds is more likely, leaving farmers with a considerable arsenal of poisons if they wish to use them. (UK agency the PSD made estimates ranging from 15% to 85%.)

But why the campaign to continue spraying a cocktail of biocides on our food, polluting people, water and soils? The Daily Mail recently quoted Prof Vyvyan Howard, toxico-pathologist at the University of Ulster, and a member of the Government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides, who said, ‘It has been my position for many years that a precautionary reduction in the levels of the most hazardous pesticides by substitution makes good sense.’

Pesticides that could be banned include a family of fungicides used on cereals called triazoles thought to be hormone disrupters, a potato fungicide mancozeb linked to cancer, and the insecticide family of pyrethroids – which can affect the human nervous system.

Pesticides are a sort of addiction for the ‘modern farmer’ – a habit pushed by the chemical companies who sell them fertilisers too. Actually chemical fertilisers nowadays seem to be less and less economical and sustainable because they use so much fossil fuel. And their effect is often fast, sappy growth, making crops more vulnerable to attack from pests… which forces farmers to resort to pesticides as a matter of course.

If you would rather choose an organic future, take a look at our website and online shop.

> an interesting discussion about this recently on Radio 4.
> Blog site ‘Not Delia’ discusses the SOS campiagn

Cute or Not? Alpacas, chickens, bats, lizards, woodwasps.

1 August, 2008

Cute wild and domestic animals feature on our home page this week. And a special offer on organic chickens. Find out more about the farm’s new Alpacas and our wildlife on

Most people think of mammals as cute, but reptiles and invertebrates get a mixed reception. Why is that – self protective instincts perhaps? The photos below show a Common Lizard and Giant Wood Wasp – both seen at the farm this week. The huge wasp was spotted by children who visited yesterday with Good Food Matters.

Everyone thought the wood wasp was going to sting, but it’s harmless – the long spike is for laying eggs, it’s called an ovipositor. And did you know – a female Common Lizard gives birth to live young?

The Cleaner Chicken Revolution starts here!

3 July, 2008

Here at Sheepdrove Organic Farm we have a new system for processing chickens which gives you a cleaner bird ready for the table.

Our ‘hotbox’ should change forever the way poultry is processed commercially. Here’s how. Once chickens are on the processing line, they pass through a steamer to fluff up the feathers ready for plucking. This ensures they have cleaner skin than your average chicken.

Why is that? Currently the industry standard is very different. Birds are dipped into a hot water bath called a scald tank. This water might be clean at the start of the day but gradually gets filthy as hundreds of chickens per minute wash through. This coats each bird in bacteria from the preceding birds.

Sheepdrove’s hot box system is a healthier alternative to these baths, which we hope will be consigned to the past. Microbiological results are astounding – they show half as many bacteria on hotbox birds compared to those which have gone through a scald tank.

Read all about it! Sheepdrove’s hotbox system had a feature story in the Guardian yesterday, written by ethical food campaigner Felicity Lawrence.