Friday, 19 December 2014

Local Support

A while ago,  Neil went into Roses in Devizes to spec out a rotavator with a bit more va-voom than dear old Great Uncle Bulgaria.

The old garden as well as the newer plot earmarked for the CSA garden needed turning over. While I am a fan of no dig gardening in its place, and I certainly hope in time this will become its place, right now we need to turn the soil to open it up, let it breathe and hold up the potential erosion from running water which was what finished it off before.

He got talking to the hire department manager. Here is truth we have learned. Often, if you talk with honesty and belief about the things you dream of doing, unexpected blessings appear in your life. On this occasion, our fabulous local ironmonger, hardware store, tool hire place and so much more, calmly offered to try out a new bit of kit on our land, for free! A shiny new machine for just such a job had just been added to the repertoire, and on hearing about our aims to work in and with the community, we were offered the trial run.


With thanks to the wonderful Trevor who came over and gave us the induction programme.

It's a pretty day, is that, as you can see from the photos. However, it was bitter cold and it took a while but Neil manfully turned over both the old garden, and the new, and now it looks like this




and that, my friends, is intimidating.

I don't know if I am unusual but nothing excites me quite like dug earth, all fresh and promising and ready to be nursed, nurtured, planted and tended, to produce a crop.

This cultivating - together with a new swale/ditch dug a few days later - has held up the water over the plot, aerated it, and given the whole a chance to breathe and begin again.

But boy, it looks like a big plot.

We're once again registered as WWOOF hosts, and have already taken a couple of enquiries. Come spring, we'd love to see some local WWOOFers pitching in, and of course we especially want CSA members to come and help us keep on top of this wonderful space.

I am so thankful that after several years of struggle, we are back in business and raring to go. Although the rain is still coming down in sheets, and the springs are running, so far the garden looks OK. We do have standing water in some other areas, which we are going to have to incorporate into the design as seasonal wetlands. Thinking cap on.

Paradoxically perhaps,  as a Christian family, one of our big days of the year is Winter Solstice. This year it falls on Sunday - a bare two days away.  For us, having worked so long and hard on the land, having livestock to keep, and hearths to tend, the turn of the year is a very important day indeed.

This year it feels especially important. I don't feel so cast down by this winter, I am so excited to begin again.

Just take a look at that expanse of earth. You know I am going to need help, right? What's holding you back?!


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Small is Successful

Very nearly four years ago (can it be so very long, long ago?) when I did my PDC with the legend that is Patrick Whitefield we discussed the viability of small projects, holdings of limited size - by today's standards possibly even micro  holdings - run on sustainable principles.

The big question was - could it be made to pay?

Well, the answer was found in a document Patrick shared with us then and which has provided much inspiration since.

The Ecological Land Co-operative commissioned the report, but for unknown reasons, you can't download it there now. However I have found a download here.

I'm re reading it now, as we prepare - as soon as midwinter passes - to rebuild the market garden and welcome local people.  School students, as well as volunteers and CSA Members will be part of something small, successful and above all local.

You can see short videos of others survivors and thrivers on the land, at LivingInTheFuture.

If you're inspired by the ideas you find, contact us and consider joining the CSA, coming along to volunteer, and taking part in the transformation at Chestnuts.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Plaid Friday

I don't do Black Friday.  It's a ridiculous, imported, meaningless, ugly greedfest.

There. I'm glad I got that off my chest!


However PLAID Friday is another matter. I only just discovered it! And it's today!

(It's always today, George.*)

On PLAID  Friday, buy something local, buy something indie, buy something from a craftsperson, a farmer or a market.

So .... until midnight only .... two memberships on offer at a 25% discount (that's only £30 a month! Yay!)  - usual deposit secures.

*Fondly remembered Stuart Little joke

In the Winter...

It can be both a slightly depressing and amazingly uplifting time for those living on and with the land, this season.

The key is learning to let go, I think. The depressing part is being able to do so little. It's neither seed time nor harvest.  The uplifting part is enjoying the fruits of your earlier labours. I'm loving the non buying of tinned tomatoes. I canned so many this year I am happily adding my home grown tomatoes to sauces as at well.

It's a time to be by the fire, creating. I'm sewing Christmas gifts and crocheting decorations. You won't find us doing Black Friday. It's Friday, and any time after about 4pm,  it'll be black, I guess.

Be with the season. Hibernate a little. Only expect winter to be winter. Now is the time for bowls of soup, snuggling in blankets, dozing by the fire. Soon enough it will be spring.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Where there's a will ...

Today, I made cheese. Milk is in short supply right now, so fresh cheese is a luxury, but it came out well. I have a picture, but for some reason best known to WordPress, it's some  kind of security threat.


Hand in hand with cheese making at this time of year, goes kim chi making.

Kim Chi is a lacto fermented sauer kraut, with ginger, chillis and garlic - it takes no prisoners!  - and is essential to health in the season of winter colds and bugs. I made two pint jars from half a good size cabbage, and to my immense delight, the chilli flakes were home grown and dried!

So this is all the good kind of stuff I'd like to be sharing and teaching in the CSA.

Come next summer, we could be cheese and kim chi making together!

Oh and WordPress is not liking my Kim Chi photo, either, but that I can understand. It's powerful stuff ;)

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Another CSA for you to look at.

[caption id="attachment_731" align="aligncenter" width="640"]category_csa Click on this lovely picture to find out about a huge CSA in Georgia/Alberta, USA[/caption]

Friday, 10 October 2014

CSAs in Action

In case you're wondering how CSAs work - well there are a variety of ways. No two are exactly the same. Some are producer run, some are member run. Some aim to provide a week's veg to each member, some only a token amount.

Let's take a look at a couple.

First up, Stroud CSA. We visited Stroud when we were first doing research. They were really helpful and inspiring. There are some major differences here - they're producer led, and very established. They're Biodynamic - and while we do aim to certify Organic when we can afford it, I'm not sure we will be going down the BD route. Also, they're established! But take a look, because they show what can be done.

In America, CSA has really taken off, and Local Harvest offer useful information and tips about joining. Remember, they're in their infancy in the UK, so there are nowhere near so many options on offer.

I've followed The Crossing on facebook for ages - their weekly cost is very low. I'm not sure what that you get that for that, but I'm investigating!

I've picked one at random from Local Harvest - Little Red Hen - but feel free to have a browse around.

Our version isn't yet set in stone. As a producer led CSA, we are just waiting on members coming on board to offer ideas and improvements.

I'm hoping the first ten members this year will gel into a core group. Then we'll really be on our way.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Sign Up for 2015!

Community Supported Agriculture

Help us to grow healthy, natural food in your community – Invest in the Farm – Share in the Harvest.

Chestnuts CSA Vegetable Box Scheme will run for an approximately 28 week season from June – December 2015

Signing up for a share commits you for the season. Full season price - £280

However, we can’t all afford that, so we will take monthly payments by standing order of £40

(but please remember you are committed for the season)


£25 deposit from October 2014 secures your place. Refundable from your first monthly payment.

Pick up will be from the farm, or a designated pick up point in Calne or Devizes if required. Deliveries can be arranged at extra cost.

Also available *Egg Shares  *Lamb Shares

Potentially available 2015 *Cut Flowers *Yarn Shares *Pig Shares

If you’re not sure what a CSA is all about, look here

Each shareholder is required to work 2 x 2-hour work sessions at some point in the season. Work sessions will be on Tuesday afternoons, and most Saturday mornings.

Work sessions will be open to all members - if you would like to work more than 2, feel free to join us for a shared lunch and a chat, and a few hours work.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Veg Box Calculations

So I fished around and found this photo of our first veg box, taken in 2006. My how the time has flown, and what trials and tribulations we've been through to get back here!


The exciting news is, we are on the land, it's cleared and good to go, and we are now advertising shares available for next season. In the next day or two we will work out the maths, and explain how it all works, but we know shares will be limited, and we know we will be booking from now, to commence next spring, and if there are any goodies on offer in the interim they will be made available to those with booked shares.

Looking back despite the slightly holey spinach and the random collection of tomatoes, we did not badly for a first box then, and we'll do a lot better this time with nearly a decade more experience under our belts!

Off to get to work on the land for me today !  Can't wait to get stuck into preparing it.  I'll be back with pricing information as soon as we've worked out the fine detail.



Monday, 8 September 2014

Aida and Minnie are still for sale

I'm very sad that they are. I would like to keep all my goats.

Trouble is, we have to work hard on staying on plan this year, and the goat dairy is not a this year thing.

Aida is coming 4 and Minnie her daughter is coming 2, Aida has just had the one kid - Minnie - and Minnie is ready to go to the billy now.  Aida is a purebred British Toggenburg, though unregistered, Minnie is BT x Saanen.

aida and minnieGoats and Cameras. Either they're close enough to eat the darn thing, or they're walking away.


Anyway, they weren't cheap to raise and we won't be giving them away, but a really good home is pretty important to us, so get in touch if you have an offer to make.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Farm News Friday - Savory Bites

Well there's been on onrush recently of opinion which opposes all livestock farming, and frustratingly usually condemns all farmers with one sweeping stroke.

Often the claims of those who uphold that meat production is destroying the planet are woefully under researched, and either willfully or ignorantly quote statistics from 'feed lots' as a reason to stop producing Welsh Lamb.

Here in the UK most of our meat is grass reared, and we don't really have the feed lot system.

George Monbiot recently offered the same dish served cold in The Guardian, by way of 'interviewing' Allan Savory.

It was really interesting to watch the fall out from this hatchet job from the inside, within the confines of a Regrarian group online. Shocked participants reeled as they took giant steps back from Monbiot,  whom they had previously admired. A few of us who were singularly unimpressed to start off with tried not to mutter, 'I told you so'.

I won't attempt to describe what a shabby little effort it really was, since the Savory Institute has done so far better than I ever would, with dignity and integrity.  Nice to know someone still has that.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="250"] Picture of a man telling the truth. You might want to cut out and keep. Rarity value accumulating.[/caption]


You can read the Savory Institutes measured rebuttal here.



Friday, 1 August 2014

Farm News Friday - Land Prices and Tenants

On Wednesday we spent the day at the NSA Sheep Event.

It was  fabulous day all round and we enjoyed the whole thing, despite being exhausted by the end. The girls took themselves off to a round of seminars which they found informative and useful and generated pages of notes - not least about the new animal movement reporting system.

We had arranged a meeting with the wonderful George Dunn of the Tenant Farmers Association, to discuss all things tenancy. He was as ever helpful and inspiring, a man of faith and conviction, and a consummate professional. We have  a plan of action to proceed with, in pursuit of our ultimate dream.

On scouring the news for a suitably sheepish story to scribble about for Farm News Friday, I was unfortunately distracted by the headlines about land prices. Here's a link to David Richardson's opinion piece in Farmers Weekly.

Here's the part that made my heart sink:

"What concerns me more, however, are recent developments in the land rental market. Demands made by agents on behalf of owners are seldom talked about in detail in the pub, but there is evidence that some agents, watching the price at which land has been selling, have decided to seriously raise their rental demands. Agricultural Holdings Act rent demands are high enough, but farm business tenancies have always been higher because they are usually added to existing commercial units and the economies of scale are assumed to apply."

So what of the small guy, the tenant, the new entrant, the youngster, the oldster, still patiently pursuing a dream? What about those who give their heart and soul, not to mention their lungs and their livers, clinging onto the first step of The Farming Ladder*?

Once land prices and rent are so high, that not one single person with a bright idea, or a passionate desire to farm above all else, can ever hope to get his or her hands on a single acre - where will farming be then?

And when hard times come, when the nation needs its farmers, as it did in the World Wars we are currently commemorating, what good then will be the sit tight profiteers who never gave a damn about the soil, or the heart of the farm?

 Why haven't we learned?

*Feel like a real historical farming rant, and a bit of between the wars and WW2 farming history - Henderson is unmissable. Only buy it from that link above and I'll get a few pennies, with luck!


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Learning from a chicken

As we think about teaching and learning, and as I battle heroically with the seething mass of paper that is my Permaculture Diploma work, I am thinking, what can we learn from chickens?

I can come up with quite a lot of important information I can teach about chickens.

We can learn how they eat, how they breed, how they act naturally. All kinds of scientific things can be learned about them.

We can learn about their history, and their part in our history.

We can learn about environmental considerations to be born in mind when we buy eggs, or eat chicken.

However, today, what I can learn from chickens - is the same as I once famously claimed to have learned from Andy Murray. Maybe I forgot. Maybe the FreshStart girls came to remind me.

The last point is behind you. There is nothing you can do about it. Only the next point matters. Make it count.

Our lovely, sweet, ex-caged hens are the tamest, most friendly, cuddliest hens we've ever known.

'Why on earth would that be?' asks Sasha.

After all, they've had the rottenest lives of all of them, been quite roughly handled, and narrowly escaped mass extermination.

It doesn't matter. Today, the sun is shining, and they are pecking around in the nettles. They are happy and thankful, and gearing up to laying their finest egg ever. That's what they do.

That's what I've learned from chickens. If you think you'd like to learn about chickens, that's another matter. Watch this space.


Monday, 28 July 2014

Taking care of the pennies

The week of being the face of farming on Twitter has ended, and it was fun, if a little nerve wracking.

The many amazing things I hoped to do and show in the week were somewhat stalled by the baling and subsequent endless carting of the hay, which in itself at least gave us something to tweet about.

Needing something to fill the gap and with lots of new ideas about to be put into practice, I've decided to join the Yakezie Alexa challenge, to see if I can grow the blog, and win more support for our ideas.

School holidays now so I'm two fab part time farmers up on the work rota, and we're concentrating on the csa veg garden and our new ideas for outdoor  learning.

To live our dream is a real step outside the norm - and the budget is key. We have to be creative at every turn to stay out of debt,  and build financial security for our one day farm, so as we take up new ideas, I'm going to have to accept that challenge.

penny pinching

I always value comments - please stop and say hello if you are doing something similar, so that we can pop over and look at your work too!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Blaze of Glory

Term is ending, sun is shining - it really feels like a proper summer. It's too hot to do much in the middle of the day and I'm retreating indoors to sort indoor stuff then, and venturing out again later.

The hay is cut, but will likely not be baled until Thursday morning, and we're forecast some rain on Thursday evening. Last year for the first time ever (and last by the sound of it) we collected hay leisurely,  over two days, with no threatening rain clouds chasing us.

This year it could definitely be back to late night, moonlight, hay hauling.

The middle field that I tidied up with the scythe is all over thistles and nettles again. It really needs close grazing and keeping on top of. The garden is also baked and nettle covered once again. We sometimes appear to be fighting a losing battle - but we will get there.

Next week the older breeding ewes will go off to a rare breed sale - and then the young ewes will come into the flock, and off we will go again.

I'm enjoying tweeting as @FarmersOfTheUK, although it's a bit compulsive.

I've been trying to introduce some permaculture principles into the tweets. It's struck me as I write that I am standing with a foot in each camp, and I can see so much of what farming and permaculture could do for each other, how much they have in common.

Yet I'm feeling like I am bridging a yawning gap and neither side thinks the other is good for much.

I'm working through Holmgren's principles, so I guess I should build up to 8: Integrate rather than Segregate. So much to offer each other, so much to share.



Sunday, 20 July 2014

#parttimefarmers of the uk

An exciting week as we take over the @FarmersOfTheUK Twitter account.

This brilliant idea has been going for a while now - a different farmer takes over the account each week, and followers get to learn about all aspects of British farming.

I think we might be the smallest,  part time farmers to take the account so far.

Hopefully we'll give a good picture of what it's like to be a small, part time, family farm.

Follow @FarmersOfTheUK on twitter to see what's going on.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Farm News Friday - Yes, Minister. Or Not.

The big news this week has to be the cabinet reshuffle and the sacking of Owen Patterson as Environment Minister, to be replaced by Liz Truss.

On balance, following a completely unscientific shamble through my facebook contacts, the Farmers are sad to see Owen go, and the Environmentalists are dancing on his grave.

However, the Farmers are also open to giving Liz a chance, she seems like a possible good egg, they feel. And the Environmentalists are just kind of preparing to dance on her grave.

I have to hand it to the Farmers on this one, seeing the best in people and trying to work with them, and to be honest, with this reshuffle, I've been SO FED UP of the Green lot and Teachers banging on, and on, and on, about their respective Ministers of State.

In the end, you know what? I don't reckon it makes much difference*. It's not as if the new minister - be it at Defra or  Education - is a free agent,  likely to go off at a tangent and do something Big Dave wasn't expecting.

Ministers will come and go.  They will do some good stuff and some bad stuff. Unless you are an Environmentalist or a Teacher, in which case they will personify evil and populate your facebook statuses with spluttering indignation for years to come.  However, if my daughter comes home from school yet again having learned why her teacher doesn't like another  Minister for Education, rather than actual maths, I will be pitching a fit.

Maybe it's being used to long hours and a lot of manure, but I think the farmers have got the right idea.  Just get on with your job and try to make the best of it, folks.  Rise above them. It shouldn't be too hard.


*even I do not pretend this is an original idea. Keep Calm, They're All the Same.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Caught Red Handed

Well. Life is never dull for part time farmers.

Last week, we sent off three hoggets - they go to a very local abattoir, and on to the butcher in town to be parceled up for sale or trade.

This time, it all went a bit wrong. The hoggets went off alright, and ended up in the butcher's chiller, but then the butcher went out of business, was locked out of his own establishment, and our sheep - two of them pre-sold to customers - were locked in.

To cut a very long story a little bit shorter,  Neil managed to get in touch with the tenant of the flat above the butcher, and he managed to get a key (which is just as well, because his electricity meter was in the shop and he was 12p from darkness)  and we rescued them and got them off to our dear neighbour and onetime butcher, across the field, who with remarkable restraint and not too many 'I told you so's undertook to finish the job.

In their removal from the aforementioned premises, Neil and his new chum from the overhead apartment did the weight lifting, and I was left outside, in the street, by an estate car, with six half hogget carcasses. I was covering them with sheets of catering plastic, to keep them clean and safe, as they came out, and in order to do that, I was wielding a knife.

Stood lookout, like a low paid, half share, accomplice, on a quiet street in a market town. Armed with a knife and a giant roll of clingfilm. Just a run of the mill kind of day.

I understand and respect the decision some people make to be vegetarian. In general, the one position I can't relate to is the one where people choose to eat meat, but are squeamish about how it gets on their plate, and prefer it square and cleanly wrapped from a supermarket, and actually often have the cheek to disparage people who *are* involved in the raising, killing and processing of their own meat.

Today, for one brief moment, I could almost kind of see their point.

In the end though, even looking like a member of a criminal gang, which after all is a one off - or it had better be - is worth it in the interests of eating meat we have met. Our hoggets are between one and two years old - they have always seen a summer - and raised on good downland grass and fresh air.

Now that we are back with our old butcher, it is safe to say, we have a few more ready, so please contact me if you'd like to stock up the freezer with ethically produced, sweet Jacob lamb.



Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Making hay while .....

The heat has been punishing, and unaccustomed.  Adapting to life as a single handed homesteader is my job at the moment, and one I didn't need to be distracted from by yet another blow to our housing hopes.  It came, however, and it went. Rage, tears, and a gentle talking to by Jan, and I pulled myself together, and kept going.

Today's work day involved making yoghurt, cheese and hay.

I've added a project to my diploma portfolio - hand making hay - and after a fantastic trip to the scythe festival and many years of scything weeds and managing paths and odd bits of grassland with a scythe, I've experimented this  year with scything the side garden/orchard/ wannabe forest garden at the house, to test what we need to know, and what we can and can't do, should we decide to go over to hand hay making totally next year.

It's where my heart lies - small scale sustainable agriculture with diminishing/vanishing use of fossil fuels.  I think we can do it, but we will make less hay, and keep less livestock, but use no grazing in all probability other than our own. That's pre-empting my conclusions, but I'd say that's the way it's going.

Meanwhile, rain is forecast for tomorrow, so we had a crack at creating a haycock as seen at the scythe fair.


we actually didn't have near enough hay cut, which is a lesson learned. I'm picking up a lot of tips from Scythe Cymru as well. Next year could definitely be the year of hand made hay.

Meanwhile, I think we've exhausted our attempts at resolving housing issues via conventional means, and are going to have to look at more radical solutions.

It is seriously now nearly 1 am and I have been beetling away since 6. I probably should sleep.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Week Two - Update

After a week hacking at thistles on the field, I needed to be at home for a few days to attack the garden here, and get some things in pots and cells in the hope of some late planting out and an indian summer.

When you take on a plot of land from someone else and it's in  a dire state, the  battle to win it back is a crusade, a valiant, self expressive thing - you visualise yourself somewhat Joan of Arc like, on a white charger, bravely battling the foe.

When you let it get that way yourself, through lack of time, money, health, patience and commitment - lets just say it's a humbling task to reclaim it. No shiny armour required. Sweat and repentance, hand in hand in the baking sun, scything thistles.



and nettles. So many nettles.

There is no big equipment any more. The tractor went long since. So it is me, and a scythe.

It's a long walk back - cap in hand really.  We turned away and let it go, the garden fence needs rebuilding, the soil in the garden needs rebuilding, the fences need mending ...

But the vision is back.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A Line in the Sand

Actually, it will have to be a line in the thin layer of clay over chalk.

As Neil is now fully booked up for most of the year back in his family gig, painting and decorating, with the able help of H the apprentice when she is not studying - I am back to writing 'farmer' in the space that says 'occupation'.

I let go of the safety rope of contracted phone work from home at the weekend, and then promptly fell on my backside hauling sheep fleeces around, injured my back, and spent two days doing not much.

So today feels like a sparkling, amazing brand new bright tomorrow (© Morecambe and Wise, God bless em) - if a today can feel like a tomorrow, then this today is the one.

In the years of struggle since we first worked down on that field, a lot of amazing stuff has happened. Lately, a lot of not so amazing stuff has happened. There are a lot of thistles and nettles.  Some of this is just grand, as a wildlife habitat, they are wonderful - but their dominance is not what we were after.

So my first day in the new office consisted of - scything. I love scything, it is meditative and compulsive. Even with a back injury. Wince.


Over the rest of the year, I hope to reclaim the shabby bits, nurture the wildlife bits, rebuild the market garden, start to sell veg again, and open up some opportunities for learning.

The sheep are sheared and many of them must now move on, so if you would like your own small starter flock of jacob sheep, please contact me - we have up to twenty ewes for sale, either with lambs or after weaning.

Also, if you are a spinner, give me a shout if you would like to buy a fleece - the ones that caused me injury are still available!



Friday, 21 March 2014

Farm News Friday - The Budget

I'm not much of an economist, and I haven't had time to really dig around for any impact the budget will have on small farmers - if anyone can enlighten me, please post in the comments!

Apparently the CLA quoted here on FarmingUK are saying that tax breaks are only designed to help incorporated businesses, and most farms and rural businesses are unincorporated.

They do add that farmers will be glad of the extended Annual Investment Allowance because of machinery purchases, but frankly, I don't think my new pink wheelbarrow, purchased with the scrimped savings from the grocery budget, is going to be in that category.

Lest you think I am a pink wheelbarrow kind of woman, can I just say I bought it because the rest of the family expresses great scorn for pink wheelbarrows and swears it would not be seen dead with same.  This is playing directly into my hands, as my previous pride and joy in purple has been kidnapped and now lives in the pony paddock. I shall report back on whether this contempt is genuine, or if in fact it is all a front and I lose yet another wheelbarrow.

Apart from a bit about supporting apprenticeships, which may benefit our offspring but will not directly affect the small or part time farmer in terms of hiring in staff, the AIA seems to be the big news of the budget for farming correspondents.

There is an increase in the personal allowance - the amount you are allowed to earn before you pay any tax - and that is good news for all us working types, though I have yet to earn enough to hit it.

I am not jumping for joy about the tax cuts on beer and bingo, despite being one of the aforementioned working sorts, but I did find it funny to listen to the Guardian reading, champagne socialists getting their knickers in a knot about how patronising it was to assume that working people liked beer and bingo.

In a vox pop on Radio Four, as far as I could tell, no real working class person felt patronised whether or not they played Bingo, but cheaper beer was pretty much universally applauded.

In a more subtle moment, a commentator declared the comments about beer and bingo on Twitter by Grant Shapps were terribly patronising, but then proceeded to say that he felt politicians had missed the point, most working people hadn't noticed the comments, and in fact, most working people probably hadn't noticed the budget. So not patronising at all then.

Part time and small farmers, I would suggest do not play much bingo - not the time for it really and not ideally located - but will be chuffed that beer and cider aren't going up, on balance.

If anyone wants my £500k AIA shout.  Oh wait. £499, 957.50. There was that wheelbarrow.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Morning Tea

004an essential part of our early rush hour.

Before school runs, dogs have to be exercised, ponies hayed,  breakfasts had, packed lunches packed and days planned.

Frantically grasping at what daylight there is, it's easy to forget how blessed we are.

The small wonder of hot tea, complete with our own, raw, wonderful goats' milk.

With barely time to sit and sip - it's time amid the lashing gales and the ceaseless storms to start a New Year.

Candlemas passed clear and bright, which is not good news if you're superstitious or a traditionalist when it comes to your weather forecasts.

Poor, wonderful Somerset is under water and amazing, awesome farmers are fighting for their livelihoods.

I'm mulling things over. Something different on the horizon, I think.

But first, a cup of tea.


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

This time last year...



As hard to believe as it might be, this was pretty much a year ago.

Currently, we are under water. None of it is frozen.

I wonder if it's just not going to happen this year, or if it's planning on coming down in May?


Nothing would surprise me any more.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Frugal Tuesday

Aiming to keep a monthly tally of what we're doing to cut back and save every penny.

Times are very tight indeed for us, so it's important to save where we can, and earn a little extra.

Our house was built in 1975 by the Crown Estate, from whom we rent it. It's double glazed, and we've had loft insulation fitted. The cavity walls are insulated.

The double glazed windows don't actually fit the holes they're meant for in all cases. We have no central heating - we have the Rayburn, which runs one radiator, in the bathroom. We also have a wood-burner in the sitting room.

The only other method of heating is electric room heaters, and if you've ever paid the electricity bill after heating a room with one of those, you'll know we aim to turn them on approximately never.

So far this winter the weather has been wet and windy but the freeze will surely come.

As you can see, we have blankets, quilts and comfy cushions all over the place in the sitting room. If you sit down, you wrap up.

IMG-20131231-00840We've  decided to keep out any potential heat stealing draughts by making sure the front door is also wrapped up warm. For some reason, I had a curtain - a large curtain with a thermal lining! - all on its own in the airing cupboard. I think its twin may have been used for a similar purpose in some previous house.

Anyway, not wanting to spend any money on this project, we thought around how to put it up for winter without major works.


Well, I know it's not a work of art, but it's keeping the cold out!

We'll get to the arty stage later! We discovered we had some large cup-hooks, which Neil opened up a bit to allow them to hold a broom handle.  We have a lot of broom handles. We once built a geodesic dome from broom handles, we shall do it again, one day. Meanwhile, one of them has a part time job.

IMG-20140105-00861The rings were also stashed away in the garage, so the cost of this little insulation measure was zero.  Some paint and some needlework wouldn't go amiss, but we can already feel the difference in temperature in the hall and on the stairs.

What are your latest money saving tips? Do you have any energy leaks which could be plugged with a little thought, for a low cost?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Winter Walks and Dead Hedge

Various issues and a break in the weather have made me take to the lanes with my faithful beagador. It's reminded me what a fabulous place I live in, and how grateful I am for the healing spaces, the big sky, and the great, rolling downs and the tiny, perfect details.

[caption id="attachment_618" align="aligncenter" width="640"]ditch2 the ditches are full, beneath the still bare blackthorn and hawthorn[/caption]



[caption id="attachment_617" align="aligncenter" width="640"]harepath high on the downs, Charlie's barns can be seen in the far distance, beyond them way up, our wethers graze the Wansdyke.[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_620" align="aligncenter" width="640"]ivy berry Ivy berries glitter in the hedgerows.[/caption]

Meanwhile turning the problem into the solution, I've been clearing shrubs, hedges and general gubbins, and creating a dead hedge round the veg garden - well, I've done about 20 metres.  The idea is to create a bit of shelter on the windward side,  add to biodiversity, and hopefully even keep the ducks in.

[caption id="attachment_619" align="aligncenter" width="640"]hedgeclose Alder stakes in my embryonic dead hedge[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_621" align="aligncenter" width="640"]hedge1 filling the gap with ivy, hawthorne, and general brash.[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_622" align="aligncenter" width="640"]hedge raspberry canes from pruning the main raspberry plot, plugged into the soil, along with some buddleia and other ready rooters, in the hope that the dead hedge will eventually become a live hedge.[/caption]

Friday, 10 January 2014

Farm News Friday - A Bee in my Bonnet


From The Guardian, this week, here is an article about the decline in honey bees and the potentially devastating consequences.

We’ve actually got a rather precarious hive of bees, Neil took them on some years ago, they swarmed, we cleaned the hive out and left it, another lot swarmed from somewhere and moved in. We have never had so much as a teaspoonful of honey from them. He’s just not taken to bee keeping, I don’t think.

I probably should take over – that could be another new start – but in the meanwhile we’ve made a small contribution to honey bee numbers, and left them to it in peace and quiet and a choice spot on an organic farm.

This 2009 article from the BBC attempts to calculate the impact on food prices of a total collapse of the bee population. It quotes Einstein (or not):

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

An estimate of the worth of the pollination services provided by bees comes out at £200m a year, but the article goes on to project a retail value of closer to £1bn.

Monday, 6 January 2014

A New Year Guest Post

Next up on my new calendar of regular events is a Guest Blog Spot. This was scheduled for a bit later in the month ... but my first guest was so quick off the mark, and her subject is seasonal so without further ado, please welcome Andrea from Casalinho*:

It’s New Year’s Day, and it’s raining again. It’s been raining for what seems like weeks, and my waterproofs seem as wet inside as they are outside now. It’s time to get the animals fed and locked away for the night, and it’s a battle to get to the baby guinea pigs before the rats who come out under cover of darkness do. Ridiculously, the only way to get these defenceless little creatures through the first few weeks is to remove them from their hutch each evening and stash them in the truck for safety. Yesterday I wasn’t fast enough.


It’s been a tough day, with one of the goats having given birth to a deformed and stillborn little one just yesterday. She still hasn’t passed the placenta, and I’m concerned. I can’t reach the vet as it’s a holiday, so I’m watching and waiting and hoping.

I spent Christmas Eve digging channels in the rain to reroute the storm water than was pouring on us. I watched our lower fields fill with water, powerless to do anything. I picked my Jerusalem Artichokes out of the debris when then water went down. On the bright side, that’s one less harvesting job to complete I suppose.

But, you know, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. There’s a satisfaction to be had in sacrificing what could have been a lazy afternoon in favour of caring for others, even when those others are goats. In return for my efforts they supply my family with the milk that I craft into cheese and the occasional young one. Looked at like that, the give and take of our relationship seems a little one sided and the wet and the work small change.


There’s satisfaction too in knowing that tonight’s dinner, already cooking, is largely the fruits of our own labour. Later I’ll share it with my family by candlelight. Not because we like the ambience, but because the realities of off-grid living sometimes necessitate it. But it encourages conversation, and later there will be bedtime stories and pyjama cuddles goodnight, and a warm cat on my lap. The first of this year’s red wine, a new barrel opened in celebration of the season, will round off my evening and remind me of the blue skies of late summer when we brought the grapes in.

So life is good. Despite being so wet that I could wring out my underwear if I chose, tomorrow I’ll pull on dry socks and carry on like smallholders and small farmers everywhere. We don’t do this because it’s prestigious or because of the perks. I’ve not heard of anyone who’s got rich from smallholding, and for most of us it’s a financial struggle. But we love it, and we believe in it, and we know the life we’ve chosen is worth every wet pair of socks.

A happy and abundant New Year to you, and here’s hoping you’re as happy in your little corner of the world as I am in mine, despite that trickle of water running down my spine.


*I met Andrea at Ragmans Lane in 2011 on Patrick Whitefield's PDC.  We were wading round in the wind and rain then as well.  Andrea and Jeroen do amazing works of permaculture brilliance at Casalinho e Escabelado, in central Portugal. Do take a look at their website.


Saturday, 4 January 2014

New Year Aims and Hopes

nydWe have a big planning session on New Year's Day. That was three of us ready, we were waiting for Neil. Anyway, we ploughed away, all day and in the end, we decided that with our very limited resources, and some financial issues to face, we have a small list of aims and hopes for the year.

We want as a family to enliven our family worship time.  Pull together more. Make music. Aim high and support each other.

Despite or perhaps because of our straitened circumstances, the girls do have their animals. We have been challenged on this, a lot of people do seem to equate keeping a pony with being the Idle Rich.  In fact, to set the matter straight, we were given the ponies, the land we keep them on is a perk of our tenancy, and we couldn't afford for them to have an iPad or a wii instead.  Livestock and outdoor hobbies are part of the fabric of their lives. They have a cost, but we are blessed to be able to keep that right down. We certainly could not afford dancing lessons, trips to the cinema, or - for the last several years, a holiday.

So both of their aims for the year centre on the animals they work and play with, and consist of both leisure and potential business activities:

Harrie hopes to do some dressage, some showing, and get into making and selling some small leather items, as she's very interested in progressing onto saddlery.

Sasha wants to trial her dog, and show some sheep. Depending on Nan's success rate, she'd also like to breed from her, and retain a puppy to train. That might not be this year, though.

Older Generation Aspirations are also Ground Level!

Neil wants to get on top of maintenance, and sort out the many underused resources around here - house and land. First and foremost though, he has to sort out his precarious employment status. We are part time farmers for a reason. We can't survive on ten acres.

I want to get the garden into full production, finish my Permaculture Diploma, and do a lot more preserving - canning, freezing, fermenting - as well as declutter, sew and finally learn to spin. Oh I also *need* to lose some weight and get a tad fitter.

There are however, some big financial goals to pin on the board. Clear some debts,  create some resources -  save small amounts, make small amounts -  build some resilience into our family system. Everyone has the challenge - don't bury that talent. Make it grow. Remember the Parable of the Talents? Well the heavenly meaning of that particular earthly story has more to do with working for God's Kingdom, and that is on our To Do List as well! Like a lot of parables though the earthly story has a lot to offer too.

We all have gifts, and we need to all bring them to the table, and make them work for us.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Farm News Friday - A News Post for Small Farmers and Smallholders

I'm starting some regular posts, to keep myself up to speed, and make the  blog more use to others.  Lets see  how we go with a news post on Friday. If you want to join in, choosing a farm news story from around your way to talk about - please post a link in comments.

Today, top news for farmers great and small in the West Country of England is the weather.

The whole of the West of Great Britain is in a poor way following galeforce winds, lashing rain, burst river banks, and furious floods.

This news story in Farmers' Weekly is about sheep drowning in a flooded river in Scotland.

Last winter and spring,  large numbers of sheep were lost in snow - you can read the article here.

For us, we can mostly get around our sheep and check each one individually. However, at the moment, part timers like us find the daylight a mean resource. We're often at work or school for nearly all the hours during which you can see a sheep.

We're also caught out by our lambs being in quite an inaccessible place - they're dry, that's for sure, they're right up on the top of the Downs! But we can't move them down with our beat up old Volvo.  Tomorrow is the day they will hopefully come down with the help of a friend, and then they'll be closer to keep an eye on.  The downside? They're going to have wet feet as our lower lying fields are in fact mostly ponds.

Not as bad as this though.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600"] Ally Hunter-Blair's Photo - Follow him on Twitter @Wyefarm for more pictures[/caption]

So that's my first Farm News Friday. Lets hope there are some brighter (and drier) stories to come.