We’ve got a massive surplus of slightly rotten willow branches and trunks after felling a couple of large trees near the farm house. Willow isn’t much good as a fuel – too wet and light, so we decided to use up some of the wood by creating a Hugelkultur bed. The basic construction plan was to strip the top soil off, pile on lots of the rotting wood and add layers of straw and the removed top soil. The end result should be a raised bed that has loads of nutrients available from the decomposing wood and yet, due to the wood, retains moisture better than a standard raised bed.
The kids got really into the construction of this, enjoying building up the layers of wood and shovelling soil about. We built our hugelkultur bed in the play area as it will end up a perfect height for the kids to plant and weed. For the layers above the wood we used a mixture of feathers (high nitrogen content to offset the effects of nitrogen depletion caused by decaying wood) and rape straw that we cut last autumn.
We finished off by shovelling the top soil we’d removed at the beginningback over the top of the whole structure. Jenny then had a great idea – to transplant the excess runners from our main strawberry beds that were escaping all over the paths into the sides of the hugelkultur bed. Over the following few weeks we planted a quick crop of lettuce seedlings around the top edge and have now just planted in a few pumpkin plants that should benefit from the rich and water retentive conditions.
Archive for the Category Fruit
In preparation for our spring planting this year, we made a number of cloches from various bits of junk that we had accumulated. The first design was an old favourite, using water pipes to form arches over a rectangular wooden base and then covering the lot with offcuts from the polytunnel covering. With a little bit of bracing, these frames can be made relatively robust but they do end up being quite heavy. The next lot of cloches were made to a much simpler design, simply hinging together two sheets of polycarbonate with loops of fencing wire.
Both designs have stood up well to the end of the winter weather, protecting our early peas until they can be uncovered.
We have also been digging over the ploughed areas and building new raised beds. We’ve made up a dozen beds for the roots rotation which have had beetroot and parsnip seeds sown in to them. The legume rotation was the first to be fully completed with 18 beds, half containing a succession of pea varieties and half containing broad beans.
We also extended our perennial fruit area to include nine beds of raspberry canes. They will take a while to get established but hopefully the wait will be worth it!
With our sows due to farrow at the end of January or the beginning of February, we separated them out into two neighbouring runs. Here’s the line up of intrepid pig herders preparing to gently persuade a 350kg sow to squeeze through our little pallet gate into her new home. Fortunately, Priscilla’s stomach leads her and she happily followed Trevor and a bucket of pig nuts with minimal effort from the team!
In January we finally began to see our first proper winter weather. This is just one of many spectacular frosty dawns I was treated to in January – well you do need some motivation to get out there bright and early to defrost all those troughs every morning!
We had a really busy last workday in January as we had a lot of prospective new members coming out to find out what exactly we get up to on a Saturday morning. Here you can see Jenny and Tom getting stuck in to the job of building some cloches from left over timber, water pipe and polytunnel coverings. The design for these is pretty simple, the so called ‘Geoff Hamilton cloche’. The main problem with this design can be it’s weight, which we kept manageable by creating two half-bed length cloches that can be easily carried out to the field by two people.
On The following Wednesday, we also built a couple of cloches out of polcarbonate sheeting we had been donated. These are very lightweight – essentially just two sheets joined by wire loops that you can foldout to form a ‘tent’ shape over the bed. These need staking down to keep them put in the strong winter winds but are easy to move and store as they fold flat.
The other big winter job we had to do was to finish planting out our perennial fruit beds.
We had a lot of raspberry canes to be spilt out and planted into freshly prepared beds. We also had some more current and gooseberry bushes to complement those we got planted towards the end of last year. These beds are the last that were laid out before we had the plough running and so they still needed a good bit of digging and hoeing to provide a suitable soil for planting.
It’s not all work though, whilst all this is going on, Ruth and the girls were playing ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ in the garden. Over the winter we have also been having a bring and share lunch on the last Saturday of the month. We end up squeezing everybody into our sitting room, with the kids forced to picnic on the floor.
Its been a great chance to chat together and sample some of the dishes people are making with the farm produce. In fact, the lunches have been such a success I’m sure we’ll find a way to make them continue through the year.
To celebrate the first anniversary since we bought Hempsals Farm at auction, we held our first AGM and Hog Roast following a bigger than usual workday. We had two main jobs to do out in the field. The first was to get in our meagre barley harvest, which was planted only a little bit late but got hit badly by the drought early in the spring and only really got under way very late. We stacked the barley as it came off the field into ricks built on the ubiquitous pallets. It will be left there for a week or so to dry out fully before we attempt to thresh and winnow it (by hand or possibly by foot). There’s not going to be enough barley to make a dent in our pig feed bills over the winter although our fodder beet is looking very good as the moment. Hence, we’ll probably try to brew some beer out of the small harvest we have mananged.
The second job this week was to plant out the first beds of soft fruit bushes, with blackcurrants, redcurrants, blueberries and gooseberries all going in to the newly prepared beds. We also had been donated some fruit trees by one of our member families and had (rather ambitiously I think) added an apricot and a nectarine tree to these. The six trees were planted along the wire fence dividing our two areas of completed beds, the intention being to train them along the wires to form a beautiful and fruitful hedge. Whilst all this was going on, the children were being kept busy cutting out and colouring in their own pieces of fruit – a job which seemed to require all the toddlers to get completely covered in glitter! (The bouncy castle we had hired to entertain them had broken down on the A14 and never made it!).
At the end of the workday, we all made our way out to the field where the children brought up their colourful fruit offerings and hung them on a ‘tree’ next to those the adults had planted. Having us all gathered together was an opportunity too good to miss and so we grabbed a quick group photo before heading back to the garden for the (thankfully brief) AGM.
The AGM covered a few main points, first up was a big thank you to all the members of the ‘steering committee’ who had helped us to get the farm up and running. We also introduced the new board (Myself, Emma, Ruth, Karen, Trevor and Hanna) who will be taking over the running of the farm for the coming year. The first proper piece of business was to vote on the timings of winter workdays after the clocks have gone back and we decided to hold them on Saturday mornings with the last Saturday of the month being a slightly later start and finishing with a bring and share lunch. We also kicked off the new ‘teams’ which will enable all the members to get more involved with planning and directing our activities here. The ‘goat’ team was particularly well subscribed and there will be much more about the six new teams on the blog in the coming weeks. Finally, I talked briefly about the upcoming Feast weeks in Willingham and Cottenham where Emma will be running a fundraising stall and trying to sign people up to our new Friends and Sponsorship schemes.
With all the business concluded, we all sat back, relaxed and tucked in to a fantastic hog roast (not our pig this time – maybe next year)! Our families all brought along something to share and we had plenty of salad and a most wonderful selection of puddings.