Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

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.


Bird in the hand

23 February, 2009


More bird ringing – John Swallow managed to capture a range of species recently, including Blue Tit, Kestrel and Reed Bunting. This special type of bird monitoring requires a lot of training and can only be done under licence. Because each leg-ringed bird is recorded (location, age, sex, weight, etc.) it provides the chance of learning where the birds originate, how long they live, and where they might migrate. 

reedbunting-inhand100John netted 29 Reed Bunting (left) which was most of the flock, near their favoured roost. All were safely released again and went back to the roost without a problem. They might travel a long way during migration this Spring, and might return to Sheepdrove Organic Farm again, or might some of them stay and breed here? The Blue Tit pictured above probably lives in Nut Wood much of the time, but might venture to feeders at local gardens too. Winter is a difficult time for both of these small birds, which spend most of their day seeking food.

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?

Encounter bats at Sheepdrove

18 July, 2008

Meet Linda the Noctule bat.

 Meet Belinda the Noctule bat.

Book your place for a close encounter with bats, right here on the farm! Call 01488 674727 now.

Friday 25 July – 8.30pm start

David Endacott, an expert from the local bat group, will begin the evening by introducing you to some of the bat patients in his care. Special training and a licence means he can rehabilitate injured and orphaned bats and return them to the wild.

People who book onto these events always love David’s star bat, a very cute and cuddly Noctule named Belinda. She is eleven years old, and still in human company because her broken wing never became strong enough for life in the wild.

Then the event continues with a torchlight walk to look and listen for bats at our herb garden, ancient woodland, ponds and a lake. We will use bat detectors so that everyone can hear the ultrasound calls made by the bats as they echolocate.

The wide variety of bats is a joyous result of the great abundance and diversity of insect life supported by our eco-friendly organic farming. Tiny pipistrelles eat thousands of midges every night, Daubenton’s Bat specialises in catching insects from just above the surface of ponds, and Noctule fly high to catch big insects such as dung beetles and moths.

ABOVE: A bat detector next to the camera makes the bat’s ultrasound clicks audible. Note – all bats are legally protected and you cannot keep them as pets or even disturb their home! This bat has a broken wing and is in the care of a trained rehabilitator.

Join us on Friday 25th July to experience some of these brilliant creatures for yourself.

  • Booking is essential, please call Jason Ball on 01488 674727.
  • £5 per person. Admission fees will go to the local Bat Group.
  • Please bring a torch, warm clothes and sturdy footwear.

Marsh Fritillary search launch on Radio Berkshire

17 July, 2008

Our resident wildlife expert, Jason Ball, will be interviewed this evening on BBC Radio Berkshire. He’ll talk about the Marsh Fritillary butterfly and he’s initiated a BBC appeal for sightings of this very rare species.

Sheepdrove is making an effort to secure a safer future for Marsh Fritillary, which is on the brink of extinction in Berkshire with only one colony remaining. Next week is Save Our Butterflies Week 2008, and the President of Butterfly Conservation, Sir David Attenborough has warned that butterflies are under threat as never before.

To listen to BBC Radio Berkshire online, go to and click on the ‘Listen Live’ button in the right-hand margin. Jason will be interviewed for ‘Traffic Island Discs’ at about 6.40pm this evening.

Bats meet strange apes face-to-face

27 March, 2008

wow - a bat up close         meeting the class 

Three heroic bats came face to face with fascinating animals called ‘humans’ yesterday in a project to raise awareness about these odd creatures. The daring trio were a Noctule named Belinda, a Brown Long-eared bat called Leo and a Soprano Pipistrelle who wishes to remain anonymous. They teamed up with David Endacott of the Oxfordshire Bat Group and Jason Ball at Sheepdrove Organic Farm, and went to visit children at Lambourn Primary School.

Our brave bats enjoyed the day, and learned a lot.

Belinda said, “These people were very friendly, not like what you see on TV. Mr Endacott told them lots about us, how we find food and where we like to live. Most of them were pupils at Lambourn Primary School. They actually put up some new bat houses in the school grounds, which I thought was very kind. I expect the local Pipistrelles would love to move in to one of those boxes. I might think about it, if the moths and beetles living there are big enough!”

 bat box 1        box on tree

Often misunderstood, sometimes feared, humans are most active during the day while most bats are asleep. At first echo, human beings might appear rather pathetic, after all they have such tiny ears, and indeed their hearing is poor. “They can’t echo-locate for toffee,” says Leo, and he should know. They also cannot fly without special machines such as helicopters, and are not capable of hanging onto a wall upside-down for more than a matter of minutes. Read more…

They have a varied diet, consuming hardly any insects at all (how puzzling!) and never eat half their bodyweight in food in a single day. Not even when they are very hungry. Unlike bats, who can tolerate body temperatures from near freezing to well over 40 degrees Celsius in the summer, humans have a very low range of body temperature, usually around 37 Celsius, give or take one or two degrees. Humans cannot hibernate either!

Despite appearances, human beings are actually quite clever creatures, and social animals like bats, living in gatherings of various sizes all over the world. Some bats even argue that humans are an important part of biodiversity and we should try to get along with people. After all, many of us share a home with humans and they play a big part in the state of our local countryside.

Read more…

bat on shoulder         listening to a bat with a detector