Monday, 13 January 2020

Oxford Real Farming Conference - Shut it, George - The Elders.

The tail end of last week, we spent two full days at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.
I've wanted to go for years, but have either not had the time or not had the money, or not booked tickets in time, or any combination of the above.
This year I got it all lined up in time, and off we duly went via Seacourt Park and Ride to the impressive Town Hall building, across which and with various forays into St Aldates Church, St Aldates Centre, and the Tavern, the conference runs. Like clockwork, as it turns out.

It did not disappoint, and the thought provoking, engaging, sometimes enlightening sessions we attended filled us with hope and optimism.

The afternoon of the second day may not have been the greatest time for a session on environmental land management schemes - the ongoing discussion about what happens to subsidy and support post Brexit - and though the content and discussion were both very useful, I did struggle to stay awake! Other than that there were sessions of which I wished there could have been very much more - notably Lauriston Farm's presentation on integrating raised beds for market gardening into a mixed, biodynamic, system. I felt Andre Kleinjan was slightly chucked in at the deep end, having expected to be presenting with his wife and business partner, both of whom for different reasons were unable to be there. I could have listened to him for another hour or two, and I'm sure he would have hit his stride!

Another top session closed out the first day for us - Exploring Rural Enterprise and Regenerative Entrepreneurship - which also gave us a chance to tighten up our business plan for the forthcoming year.

We did not attend the Sustainable and Healthy Diets session featuring George Monbiot, but in some ways I wish we had. From all I heard, it was a good discussion, but of course George instantly took to social media to claim he had been booed to the rafters - I was in the next room and I can absolutely guarantee that's not true.  He came to a farming conference to urge the end of farming, to insist that we should all live on factory produced foods? I heard he got a fair hearing, but he was never going to be favourite, was he? 

Factory produced food, of whatever kind, will put our very means of survival in the hands of corporate giants, big pharma, and not only that, it will deplete all our food of actual nutrition. The soil is what gives us health. Nutrient dense food needs to be grown and reared on healthy soil. Soylent Green is not the way forward. George Monbiot is a skilled and sure footed self promoter. He does what he does to make a name for himself, and pad out his bank balance.  Think carefully before you drink the artificial, lab created Kool Aid.

We came away inspired and refreshed. I did at one point make my voice heard about the oft repeated cry that all we can do now to get regenerative agriculture into the mainstream is seek out and assist young new entrants, that the average age of a UK Farmer is over 60 ... well OK, but 60 isn't old, is it?

Our population is ageing, our health is (or was, but lets not get into that just now) improving, we are living longer and some of us better, so the average age of EVERYTHING is greater. 

Whilst I agree that young new entrants are wonderful, and to be encouraged, I do rather object to being written off at 60! I farmed the land with my bare hands, running a market garden while my kids grew up, and I home-schooled them alongside the plot. I was 40+ then, so to hear some talk, already over the hill. 

I've taken a bit of a break in a way, for the last five or six years, due to family circumstances and stuff that had to be done, but I fully intend to be back, and I'm full of ideas!  So let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, eh? The wisdom and experience of elders is a valuable asset.  If we were talking about indigenous elders in another culture, we'd be all about respect for their traditions, their wisdom, and what they could teach us. So don't let's just chuck out what we old 'uns have learned in a rush to hark to the young. 

Let's hand over the baton the right way.

Our Young New Entrants

Friday, 15 November 2019

The rain it keeps on raining

By and large, we're flood free round here, but unfortunately, our little rectangle of land, does sit in the valley bottom and our water catchment is: Three arable farms, the A361, and the North Wessex Downs (to the tune of  'The Twelve Days of Christmas'?!)

When the lovely lady from Natural England came out to look at our water courses, we discovered that the bubbling spring we'd been so fond of was in fact a Victorian road drain, chucking the water off the main road down under our hay field and in theory off the side half way up.  Just as well we hadn't bottled it and sold it.

Despite all of this, over the last decade or two, we've improved things considerably. We have dug two ditches which in theory are more swale-like in summer but more off-contour-ditch-like in winter, meaning that with minor adjustments we can talk them into holding water up for us, or chucking it off into the bourne at the side.

We have a third off-contour ditch which is definitely a ditch.

We have practiced regenerative grazing as far as possible, and the soil has improved, as well as the diversity in the sward (hark at me!) and whereas the whole of the bottom half of the field used to be a swamp for six months of the year, we now only lose a bit of it after Christmas.

This year though : THE RAIN!

As I write, there are 250 flood warnings in operation. The rainfall has been of the record breaking kind, and now it's snowing in the hills, and as we all know, snow melts.

So it's entirely possible our failure to get the turkeys was inspired, because we rely on access being good until after Christmas to keep them all in good shape. It was just a glorious bodge up, whereby the left hand not only didn't know what the right hand was doing, it was I think unaware there was a right hand, but it may have been for the best.

We had a clutch of ewe lambs in for a few days as they didn't look best but everyone appears to be coping now.  We will have to look out for feet, both ovine and caprine as nobody's feet fair well in this weather (except ducks, and we don't have any ducks at the minute. Another oversight!)

All my best intentions seem to be disappearing into muddy puddles.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

It's true!

Twice a year. I promise I keep deciding to pick up blogging again. And I do. And then I drop it again.

The ewes are away now, hopefully all in lamb (we don't scan, we pray) and due from the week after Christmas. This stupidly early date is all to do with getting lambs ready to show. Arran is back in the bottom paddock, with a handful of this year's ram lambs, who really do have to go. Except Denzel, who has earned a ticket to stay and show next year as a shearling.

We've eleven ewes to lamb, and frankly, not enough space. So this is a question we'll have to keep asking ourselves.

We eventually picked up two goats from a dispersing herd to keep Mable company Pickle and Pumpkin - and they've been temporarily fenced on a patch of the field that was head high in brambles and junk. As they clear the brambles, we clear the junk. Or at least, that's the theory.

The 'allotment' garden did OK, all things considered, but I do need to spend a lot more time on it next year, as we try to crank up Chalky Flora and grow a lot more flowers. 

Autumn is in mid flight and we are having one of the wettest ever. There are floods all over the West Country, and weather warnings still in place. Our land, which usually becomes squelchy after Christmas, is already beginning to sag.

Mabel, with Pickle and Pumpkin, reclaiming the badlands.

Monday, 10 June 2019

twice a year, whether I need to or not

And that's posting on here, not actually Queen Victoria's apocryphal bathing schedule. Or was it Queen Elizabeth I? Or neither of them?
Anyway. I digress.
Please bear with me patiently as I try to link things to thangs and make this all make sense. I've just spent half a (very wet) day off setting up the record of my Permaculture Diploma, which is now linked as a blog on the right.
I'm also going to do the same with my plant business Chalky Flora. I've basically struggled for months with trying to design a site where they all fit together properly, and finally decided I can't be bothered, it's the doing that matters.
If you truly want to know what there is my Diploma Portfolio or how I'm getting on producing Dye Plants or Pollinator Plants, I'm sure you're more than capable of going over and having a look.

In other news, our purebred lambs, Denzil and Delilah, each won their class at the Royal Bath and West Show, to our great delight, although as Three Counties looms and the classes are actually for Oxford Downs rather than 'Any Other Breed - Shortwool' we are not feeling over confident.

We've moved house so we are now all squidged into a very tiny modern mid terrace (though still close to our land) and the move and the myriad challenges attached have held us up enormously this season. There does always seem to be some good reason, doesn't there?

Monday, 10 December 2018

Smallholding Plans for 2019

It's still under wraps for now, but it looks like some dramatic changes might be happening to how and where we live, which will involve a lot of upheaval.
We're trying to stay grounded by making plans for the smallholding, all ready to get started next year.
Our ten acre plot is home to several enterprises and activities. Some have fallen by the wayside over the last few years, so by way of an introduction and catch up, here's a round up of what we hope to be doing next year:

  • Oxford Down Sheep. Our long term commercial project and real passion. We're due to lamb in February, and we hope to show and grow the flock this year.
  • Chickens. We're currently down to 5 hens and a cockerel, but we're hoping to build up a bit this year and have some surplus eggs and hopefully a few choice chicks for sale as well.
  • Vegetables. We're probably not going commercial with the veg this year, but I would like to do a way better job of feeding ourselves, and having a few spare for family and friends.
  • Flowers.  We started with cut flowers last year and to be honest it didn't go quite as planned. It looks like Year Two is actually going to be Year One/Take Two.
  • Bees. Neil's taken a break from bees for a few years, but he's back at bee club and we're seriously hoping to get a hive or two up and running this year.
  • Fibre. Spinning our own Oxford fleece is really in its infancy and just for my own pleasure at the moment, but one day we hope it will go places.
  • Plants. It's my intention to grow plants for sale which link into our other enterprises, and encourage folk to grow their own cut flowers, dye plants, and plants for pollinators.
  • Goats. We're down to two, so not doing much, but young Mabel, our orphaned baby girl, may well provide entertainment in the intervals.
  • Showing up. All this will find its way onto some sort of more exciting platform than me typing away here. Possibly a You Tube channel. Gulp.
As the shortest day is still over a week away, we may possibly have got ahead of ourselves, but I hope you've enjoyed a peek into our plans, and now lets see if we can keep up, and keep updating.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Baby Girls!

One week ago today, bang on her due date, Linen Mathilda gave birth to two perfect kids. Both are female which is a real joy, since her sister, Lacey Mae was unable to take part this year, due to a problem with her udder.

Aren't they gorgeous?

That time of year again

Three weeks ago, H and I set off for the NSA Sheep Event in good heart. We had a great day, and a chat with George Dunn ... so what goes around comes around and I can't help but feel that this blast from the past is still relevant. Which is less than heartening!

These sheep our ours.  They didn't come along.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Green Scythe Fair

Our annual trip to the Somerset Levels and the Green Scythe Fair.

Fabulous day, the weather sunny bright and very HOT mostly, after we'd been forecast rain.

Scything is addictive, compulsive, meditative - all this as well as being a clean, green, healthy way to cut grass, make hay, and control weeds.

We are of course a two scythe family.

Haymaking by hand is a long drawn out process, and you need to be able to respond to the weather, which can be a problem when you both have full time jobs. For now our hay is mostly cut and baled by a contractor, but we're working towards the day it will be hand made.

It was lovely to see old friends and also watch and learn from the best mowers in the land.

Next Saturday is the Fleece Sale at the Dyers' Spinners' and Weavers' Guild I belong to and we hope to sell a few Oxford fleeces.

In other news, the garden is coming along well, and I am, better late than never, cracking on with cut flowers.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

First, catch your goat

Today began with a goat who was where she shouldn't have been

But she negotiated.

There was this little pickle.

And the Garden Club plant sale, at which I picked up two Daubeton's plants, having somehow managed to kill my original, I was well chuffed!

Baskets made up for daughter having a bit of a sun bathe - they won't get as much where she lives,so I thought I'd treat them.

Ended the day driving down to Glastonbury to buy two new chickens but they've gone to bed, so no pics yet!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Days Off and a Bargain

Spring is coming a bit slowly. It's still cold, and things are growing cautiously. We had a frost this week.
I've got five days off work now, and the job list is growing!
Top of the list is to disassemble and recover the polytunnel. It's way past its best, and really does need an overhaul.
I've also got a lot of seeds still to plant and lots to prick out/pot on/possibly even plant out, too.
I haven't been to see Diva the welsh pony for a while - Neil looks after her while I'm at work - but if the collie's coat is anything to go by, she'll need a good spring brush.
The sheep are already sheared, as they were due to be shown at the Bath and West, but our class has been cancelled, so no show prep to do.
One hopefully pregnant goat might need some tlc, and the two 'baby' chickens will need to be moved outside.
Not to mention a bit of a house and garden overhaul. I need five weeks off !

I am usually wary of magazine subscription deals, but I couldn't find much wrong with Kitchen Garden's £5 for three issues, plus free seeds.

Today the seeds arrived! A very good deal, I think!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

New for 2018

New start for Chestnuts in 2018, as I strive to complete my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design - and bring new projects to the land.

Our small flock of purebred Oxford Down sheep will hopefully grow this year. We aim to expand into cut flower growing. It would be good to get the goats back into milk.

Neil recently completed a hedge laying course, and started the hedge laying at Chestnuts.

Hedge laying is an ancient craft, which originated as a way to create stock proof barriers between fields. As such, the styles evolved with different livestock and different environments in mind. While we may not live to see it, our ideal would be to have fields enclosed only by living hedges - stock proof, yet wildlife friendly and beautiful to look at. The course Neil took was Somerset Style. You can see all the different styles here.

I've deleted all the bimblings and ramblings from the last two years, but retained the old stuff from 2015 and before because it has its uses. I'm not able to restore the photos at this point, but I'm working on it.