Posts Tagged ‘sustainable farming’

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

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.

brambles

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

alfalfa

Alfalfa

phacelia

Phacelia

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

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

Tomatoes

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

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

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

Food – the big fat lie

22 April, 2010

The ‘big fat lie’ of needing to double global food production by 2050 has dominated policy and media discussions of food and farming, making it increasingly difficult for advocates of sustainable farming methods, such as organic, to convince people we can actually feed the world without more damage to the environment and animal welfare.”
Peter Melchett – Soil Association policy director – 20 April 2010.

 

“Telling porkies: The big fat lie about doubling food production
More coverage on the Soil Association investigation launched yesterday which reveals that those claiming we need to double global food production are wrong about the figures, are wrong about what the figures apply to, and are wrong to claim that achieving these figures will mean we will feed the hungry or end starvation. Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, was interviewed on Farming Today alongside Peter Kendell president of the NFU.
Farming Today, BBC Radio 4, listen again (21 April, 00:23 seconds in)
Farmers Guardian (20 April)
Farmers Weekly (20 April)
Meat.info.co.uk (20 April)
The Ecologist (20 April)
Read the Soil Association press release here (20 April)

Organic is the way forward – Soil Association

13 November, 2009

The Soil Association has published a new report, Food Futures: Strategies for resilient food and farming.

It calls for a new cross-Governmental food strategy, and includes a series of recommendations for building resilience into our food systems including:

  • Raising the target for greenhouse gas cuts in agriculture from 6% to at least 20% by 2020, in line with other sectors;
  • Increasing farm payments to those farmers who maximise carbon storage in the soil – and making the minimisation of soil carbon losses a condition of the Common Agricultural Policy subsidy payments;
  • Increasing research and development funding for sustainable farming from 11% to at least 50%;
  • Promoting healthy diets linked to the outputs of a more sustainable food system – i.e. less meat and much more seasonal and organic vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and starchy carbohydrates (with red meat and dairy reared on grass preferable to intensive pork and poultry reared on grain);
  • Supporting public sector caterers to increase the amount of unprocessed, locally-sourced and organic food they serve; and
  • Encouraging local authorities to re-introduce ‘growing belts’ and market gardens close to urban centres – and create more allotments to encourage family and community ‘grow your own’ initiatives.

The Soil Association’s Policy Director, Peter Melchett, said:
“We’ve got to make fundamental changes to food and farming if we’re going to meet the Government-agreed climate target of a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2050 and reduce the £6 billion burden on the NHS from diet-related illness.

“We need a joined-up strategy that links changes in diet to changes in our food systems. We can’t make plans for what people might eat in future in a different box to how that food is produced.”

Sheepdrove in Farmers Guardian

23 December, 2008

Farmers Guardian 23dec2008

Sheepdrove Organic Farm is featured as the centre spread in this week’s edition of Farmer’s Guardian (23 Dec). It’s on sale today!

Sustainability and innovative environmental projects are the main focus of the article, written by Ann Hardy, who interviewed farm manager Chris Blunt and manager for biodiversity and alternative energy, Jason Ball.

Here is a snippet of the article…
The story began when Peter and Juliet Kindersley embarked on their dream of self sufficiency by buying a farmhouse and a few acres near Lambourn in Berkshire, high on the North Wessex Downs. More than three decades later and after the sale of the publishing company Dorling Kindersley, they now preside over some 2,250 acres supporting beef, sheep, pig, poultry and arable enterprises alongside an eco-conference centre and butchers shops – each gradually becoming part of a ‘food centre’, open to scrutiny by the general public, rather than simply a farm.

“This means we want more people to see where their food has come from and to see responsible farming in action,” explains Jason. “It means things like seasonal, home-grown menus in our conference centre; recycling our water and waste; developing ‘wildlife corridors’ to connect different habitats; having an abattoir on site; supplying our own butcher’s shops and offering home delivery.”

But Sheepdrove has become much more than this. The name has become synonymous with environmental sensitivity; the farm is well on its way to energy self sufficiency; and the premises is fast becoming something of a shrine for those who follow the eco route.

The farm has been richly rewarded for its endeavours, this year’s recognition including the ‘Most Excellent Dedicated Venue’ in the Condé Nast Johansens Awards and the ‘Green Award’ for the contribution of its environmental policies to a greener events industry.

Other prizes have come in abundance, including for its produce (such as its lamb and mint burgers); its farming (it has been Best Mixed Farm in the Organic Awards and a finalist in the prestigious BBC Farmer of the Year Award); its livestock (champion sheep flock and best commercial beef unit, Newbury and District Agricultural Society); its shops (a finalist for the Butcher’s Shop of the Year) and above all, its environmental practices.

GM Food – conference talks online

19 December, 2008

Presentations from the Feeding the World Conference are now available online. The conference, supported by the Sheepdrove Trust, tackled the question of GM crops in relation to the challenge of feeding the world.

Download slides and listen to sound recordings of the speakers at the conference, to see and hear for yourself what was discussed. Find all the files here.

GM crop companies claim they can help to feed the world, yet the counter-claims from critics highlight the complexity of the challenge itself, as well as raising important questions about the application of genetic engineeering technology. Can GM crops really promise an end to hunger?

Papers were delivered by a range of contributors which included:

  • an evolutionary biologist;
  • scientists who manipulate genes as part of their work;
  • people working on sustainable farming system projects in Africa;
  • an agro-ecologist involved with Cuba arid zone projects.

Some speakers were distiguished as being participants of the famous 2008 IAASTD Report – a study which involved hundreds of researchers around the world – assessing the progress of agricultural science, knowledge and technology. Learn what the IAASTD said about GM crops.

Hadlow sustainability students

2 September, 2008

Yesterday we hosted a visit by students on the BSc Sustainable Land Management from Hadlow College. Led by our Manager for Biodiversity and Alternative Energy, Jason Ball, they learned about the farm’s organic production and the diversified business including the Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre, herb production for Neal’s Yard Remedies, the chicken abattoir and butchery unit, organic butchers shops and our home delivery meat hampers.

They were very interested in our projects on renewable energy, sustainable water management, waste management, and wildlife. Two of the most tangible models for sustainable practice include the Eco Conference Centre and the Reedbed System which treats all our waste water, returning it to the chalk cleaner than it was when we abstracted it from the chalk below.

Update: the students started a blog to share their discoveries.