Posts Tagged ‘sheepdrove’

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.

Unusual things seen at the farm

3 November, 2010

Three unusual or unseasonal things we’ve seen at the farm:

  • a melanistic (dark) Fallow Deer stag
  • a summertime flower, Small Scabious
  • a springtime flower, Cowslip

Click the pictures to enlarge them.

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.

More birds at Sheepdrove

6 April, 2010

Please note: these are not at publicly accessible locations.

  Species Site Count    
  Barn Owl Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1    
  probable male, hunting on the wing. SU352818.
  Tawny Owl Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1    
  At a nestbox. SU360820.
  Rook Sheepdrove Organic Farm 20    
  Many at nests and bringing nest material in. SU360820.
  Buzzard Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2    
  calling to each other… also corvids mobbing and lots seen about here. SU369819.
  Moorhen Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1    
  Coot Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2    
  Mallard Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2    
  m+f. pair on lake – not a common sight!. SU369819.
  Chiffchaff Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1    
  m. singing. SU360820.
  Dunnock Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2    
  m+f. Pair seen mating (fraction of a second) after F displayed in a low crouch for a long time and M finally stopped hopping about and got on with it! Watched a courtship chase earlier which consisted of a ridiculous run around a rosemary bush. SU358819.
  Great Spotted Woodpecker Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2    
  m+f. SU358819.
  Wheatear Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1    
  m. seen on fence, flew to ground on pasture. SU366808.

Badger and Barn Owl

31 January, 2010

Nature notes by Jason Ball – 31 Jan 2010

a Barn Owl blur

Early this morning I wrapped myself up warm and walked into a chilly at dawn to put out some food out for the birds. Like yesterday it was a very frosty morning.

A male Tawny Owl was answering a female in the woods, and a Grey Partridge was calling just beyond. Further on I got a surprise… as I stood alongside a reedbed, watching out for owls, I heard something grunt.

A startled badger was on the path in front of me, looking right at me. After a moment of uncertainty, it dared to come closer. The badger sniffed the air, presumably attracted by the fragrance of food. But the badger didn’t like the smell of me, I suppose, and made a rapid about-turn and scarpered away – only to bump into a feisty friend.

This other badger – presumably a sibling – hadn’t noticed me and it immediately started wrestling the first badger – adding to its sense of panic!

I walked back home and decided to set up a camera to film a Barn Owl who was flying past the house on most mornings, soon after 7am.

Success! Only a modest video clip, but it’s recognisable, and I went out again to try and capture the owl again, but with a stronger zoom. Being only sunrise, the light levels were too low for the camera to autofocus. And with a 12x zoom, at this relatively close range, it was hard to pan fast enough for the Barn Owl, which was flying up and down the road.

What an excellent start to the day!

Barn Owl, Tawny Owl and a few more bird records from this morning.

31/01/10 Dunnock Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1 J Ball
07:45 SU358819.
31/01/10 Woodpigeon Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1 J Ball
07:45 SU358819.
31/01/10 Blackbird Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1 J Ball
07:45 m. SU358819.
31/01/10 Blue Tit Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2 J Ball
07:45 feeding. SU358819.
31/01/10 Chaffinch Sheepdrove Organic Farm 4 J Ball
07:45 2m+2f. Feeding. One of the males was mature, the other juvenile; harder to tell with the 2 females. SU358819.
31/01/10 Great Tit Sheepdrove Organic Farm 3 J Ball
07:45 on feeders. SU358819.
31/01/10 Great Spotted Woodpecker Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2 J Ball
07:45 m + unknown. 1 definite male at nut feeder. Another GS flew off but too fast to check gender. (Would 2 males tolerate a close presence at this time of year?). SU358819.
31/01/10 Rook Sheepdrove Organic Farm 70 J Ball
07:30 flying from north. SU359819.
31/01/10 Barn Owl Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1 J Ball
07:15 Perched on a post for a short while. Hunting in flight. Saw one unsuccessful dive. SU358819.
31/01/10 Great Spotted Woodpecker Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1 J Ball
06:45 m. drumming. SU359818.
31/01/10 Grey Partridge Sheepdrove Organic Farm 1 J Ball
06:40 m. calling. SU356817.
31/01/10 Tawny Owl Sheepdrove Organic Farm 2 J Ball
06:40 m+f. Both calling in the woods. SU356817.

The name ‘Sheepdrove’

23 January, 2010

Did you know?

sheepdrove weathervane‘Sheepdrove’ is the name for the wide lanes that were once used to herd livestock across the countryside. This was long associated with the lanes leading north out of Lambourn, up onto the downs – hence the name of Sheepdrove Farm and Sheepdrove Road.

Drovers were highly skilled people in charge of the stock, and responsible for the animals reaching market towns in good condition. Cattle and sheep were led along the droveways from Lambourn and up to the Ridgeway Path which is to the north of Sheepdrove.

The village name ‘Lambourn’ comes from Lamb and bourne – which is another word for a stream. The local landscape holds several winterbournes which only appear or really come to life when winter rains bring enough water. Rainwater seeps into the chalk all over the Berkshire Downs and as the level of the water table in the chalk rises, water is brought to these low-lying dips in the valleys.

More about the Sheepdrove Story…

Food for Life Awards

3 December, 2009

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dishes out school food awards
Yesterday, ethical and sustainable food hero Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall presented Food for Life Partnership Silver and Gold Awards to schools, who have excelled in creating a healthy and climate-friendly food culture within their schools and communities.

The ceremony took place at  Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “What makes this project so inspiring is the way that young people in more than a thousand schools are now learning about real food in a hands-on way, growing and cooking it themselves and even rearing their own chickens! I would urge the Government to do more to encourage all schools to follow their lead.”

Children and teachers took tours of Sheepdrove Organic Farm – seeing the Organic Free-Range Turkeys just before the birds go on their Christmas holidays. Our award-winning guests ate in the unique Eco Conference Centre dining room and took foodie lessons in the marvellous Food for Life cooking bus!

Find out more about Food for Life