Green Light for New Woodland
The Woodland Trust gave the green light for the MOREwoods Project to proceed at FarmED, creating a new woodland covering 0.55 hectares, forming a shelter belt around the new farm track at the north end of the farm, protecting against prevailing winds.
The aim of the Woodland Trust’s MOREwoods Project is to give both practical and financial assistance to help create more native woodlands ‘for the benefit of people, wildlife and landscape’. Following the completion of a bespoke site report, the Woodland Trust helped to design the woodland and to select the most appropriate species mix. Planting was undertaken by local nursery, Nicholsons.
The trees comprised 1575 native shrubs and 675 trees - approximately 75 Crabapple trees and 400 Field Maple as well as 50 Beech trees, 50 Downy Birch, 50 Wild Cherry and 50 Bird Cherry. Shrubs to be planted included 900 Hawthorn, 300 hazel, 200 spindle, as well as 75 Blackthorn, 50 Dogwood and Dog Rose.
Meeting of Minds
A group of landowners, farmers, academics and business owners from the Cotswolds and further afield visited FarmED for a meeting of minds and sharing of opinions and viewpoints. Ian Wilkinson led a farm walk, looking at the importance of farming diversity and sustainable practices, from soil through to food production.
Ian and Danny sowed half an acre of tree seeds, a project run in conjunction with The Woodland Trust, Jenny Phelps from FWAGSW and Forestart, which specialises in seed collection from sources throughout Britain.
Jenny Phelps’s father and the Woodland Commission had previously experimented with this novel way of growing trees, which has several advantages over the traditional method of planting saplings. Firstly, seeds are collected from a wide genetic base, making the trees hardier and healthier. We were also keen to find a different way of growing trees that did not require plastic tree guards and gave a more natural scattered growth pattern, rather than the man made lines in which trees are usually planted.
A full list of the native species of tree seeds sown at FarmED: Common Oak (Quercus robur), Mountain Ash/Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), Common Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Crab apple (Malus sylvestris), Dog Rose (Rosa canina), Field Maple (Acer campestre), Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Silver Birch (Betula pendula), Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana).
In preparation, the field was ploughed in the winter and rotavated before the seeds were broadcast by hand and then rolled in. Buckwheat which was sown with the seeds to act as a nurse crop. An annual plant, Buckwheat grows very quickly providing an umbrella shelter for the tree seedlings underneath.
Two new species were recorded at the farm: A pair of coots arrived and were building a nest on the pond and a Sedge Warbler was seen singing next to the pond. This was further proof that the creation of the wetland area was really paying off; the number of breeding species had increased by around 15% in the few years it had been there. Canada Geese were sitting on eggs on the small island, and there were at least two (maybe three) pairs of Reed Buntings nesting around the pond area. Moorhens were still present (Richard Broughton heard one calling from the sedges) and Mallard feathers were seen on the water, (and had bred in previous years). None of these species were present before, and their arrival was purely down to the wetland creation.
Elsewhere, there was a pair of Kestrels nesting in a broken Ash tree at the bottom of the sheep field (opposite corner from the pond). Also a pair of Red Kites were very much at home (probably non-breeding first-years - they don't generally breed until 2 yrs old), 4 Buzzards, 2 Yellow Wagtails and at least three Lesser Whitethroats (the highest total so far). Two Willow Warblers were also recorded - only the second sighting - although they were silent and probably passing through on migration.
We were delighted to announce that the plans for the new centre at FarmED had been unanimously approved. We began the process of putting everything in place so that construction could begin as soon as possible.
Busy Bank Holiday Weekend
We had a busy bank holiday weekend. As part of our rotation, we’d sown an enhanced wild bird seed mix, with an increased variety of species to make it more productive as a fertility builder - so we were feeding the soil as well as the farmland birds! In the strip next to it, we sowed this years herbal ley with buckwheat to act as a nurse crop in the hot weather, and to increase the phosphate levels. We were experimenting to find the optimum sowing rate and sowed the buckwheat at a rate of 8kg/acre (20kg/ha) which was lower than last year.
The seedbed conditions were perfect with an excellent tilth. We used the Cambridge roller before sowing both mixes. The wild birdseed mix was sown and then Cambridge rolled again to prevent capping, and the heavy flat roller was used after the herbal ley seed mix. The flat roller provides more consolidation but can lead to capping, so it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.
We hosted a farm walk for a group of post grad students from the RAU, who came to discuss diverse and sustainable farming. With hawthorn hedging in full flower and bathed in sunshine, the farm looked a picture. A good healthy discussion was had by all.
Welcome to the Kitchen Garden People
We were pleased to welcome The Kitchen Garden People who began setting up the Honeydale Kitchen Garden.
Emma, Christine and Dan had been running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme in Chadlington, near FarmED, for the past couple of years. The 1.5 acre fieldscale site at FarmED and large polytunnel would give Emma, Dan and Christine scope to expand. The plan was to grow salads and veg including: asparagus, kale, rainbow chard, courgettes, spinach, purple sprouting broccoli, leaf beet spinach, spring onions, flower sprouts, winter squash, onions, leeks, cucumbers, peppers, florence fennel, french beans, garlic, parsley, coriander, mustard, and different varieties of lettuce as well as redcurrants, pears, plums and rhubarb.
Go Wild at Honeydale
As part of the Wychwood Project’s popular Go Wild summer day camp, a group of 8-12 year olds visited Honeydale Farm to learn about beekeeping, healthy soil, fruit orchards, farm trees, birds, insects and more. The children took part in a range of activities including a pollination game, bug hunt and farm walk. They also enjoyed playing with Dipstick the dog and his owner Lizzie, technical advisor from Cotswold Seeds.
The Go Wild camp’s visit to Honeydale was part of a week long programme of events. Based at Ascott-under-Wychwood Conservation Centre, the children took part in a dragonfly safari, jam making; hibernation game; bird bingo and a debate on plastic pollution.
As August made way for September, the freshly planted grass by our new entrance was looking lush and green, thanks to the recent rain.
The sunflowers in the wild bird seed mix (the final year 8 of our crop rotation) were also looking stunning and we’d been preparing seed beds for our fertility building ley (year 1) and rye and vetch (year 7).
National Parks and AONB Review Advisory Panel Visits Honeydale
Martin Lane, Director of Cotswold Conservation Board, visited FarmED in connection with the National Parks and AONB Review, which commenced in June. Chairman Julian Glover was working with an Advisory Panel, including Fiona Reynolds, ex CEO at CPRE and the National Trust and Jim Dixon, ex CEO at Peak District National Park who came to FarmED on a fact-finding mission to hear about agricultural enterprises in the Cotswolds and our plans to develop a centre to promote diverse farming and how this has been aided by LEADER funding.
Observations on Spring Sowings and Summer Cuts
After eight weeks without rain, there was good regrowth on the herbal leys but no ryegrass left. The species that put down roots fast - sainfoin and bird's foot trefoil - were faring well, while the buckwheat was really struggling.
The Spring Wheat (year 5 of the rotation), which went in after a herbal ley, had come up well too though it was undersown with white clover and yellow trefoil which was being restricted by lack of moisture and only just hanging on in there.
The heritage wheat, however, looked amazing. This was an experimental sowing, with seed supplied by Rupert Dunn or Torth y Tir Baker, containing eighteen different varieties of winter wheat. We were aiming to achieve a natural selection of wheat for the farm, using epigenetics, to combine for bread-making.
As part of our ongoing trial work with multispecies mixtures for Reading University, Rothamsted and Duchy College, the trial plots were cut for silage. We cut the sainfoin for hay in early June and it produced 150 small bales per acre. It was cut when still in flower to keep the leaf longer and the dew on the ground also made it more supple. We used an old-fashioned Vicon Acrobat hay rake to turn it, which worked really well.
In our ongoing quest to discover more about the benefits of herbal leys, Nicola Smith, who works for the National Sheep Association and ORC, has been conducting post-graduate research into anthelmintic properties of herbal leys. She had been mob-grazing our herbal ley with one flock of sheep, and mob-grazing the permanent pasture under the new orchard with another flock to compare the pesticide/worm burden of ewe lambs on the two different forages. She had been gathering sheep dung for samples and weighing the ewes every two weeks. The trial began two months ago and we were looking forward to seeing the results.
Ploughing for Heritage Wheat
We ploughed up two acres of herbal ley for heritage wheat to be sown next month. This was the fifth year of our rotation and it was not the first time we’d grown heritage wheat. We trialled it on a small scale last year, but now multiplied up the seed. The plan is for the heritage wheat to be made into bread for the local area, adding value to basic commodities, demonstrating diverse farming and providing an enterprise opportunity for a micro-businesses at FarmED.
Kitchen Garden Update
The Kitchen Garden People’s first summer at Honeydale was a great success, despite the challenges of the weather and the building work going on for the development of the new centre for diverse farming.
Emma, Dan and Christine always compare costs of their vegetables to supermarket costs to make sure their subscribers receive good value for money. They pay £25 per month for a Salad Share, so £300 over the year, and they’d already received their year’s worth of produce from Chadlington and Honeydale effectively making each weekly share from now until the end of March 2019 a saving. This means that enough was grown for 50 people, which is good going, considering the tomatoes in the polytunnel at Honeydale got what we suspect was heatstroke. It looked like frost damage but was more likely to be the opposite! It was 40 degrees outside on some days and several degrees hotter in the polytunnel.
The basil did wonderfully well at the start but then declined towards the end of the summer, and again it could be that it just got too hot. Tests are being done to check it’s not the soil that’s causing the problems but the peppers, grown in the middle of the polytunnel, were exquisite and full of flavour. Emma used just one when cooking and says it flavoured the whole dish. Even the damaged tomatoes were also lovely when cooked. Emma used them to make passata and describes how it tasted so sweet, like she’d added sugar.
On the field scale the Kitchen Garden People have grown courgettes, cavolo nero and squash, followed by kale and broccoli. They did an experiment with carrots, working with the enviromesh which discouraged the deer and rabbits. The power had to be cut during the construction work and was off for three weeks, which meant they were unable to pump water. Watering by hand was doable in the polytunnel but the field scale had no water... yet everything still did really well under the Mypex which thankfully helped retain the moisture close to the roots.
The boxes this year alongside the salad leaves have featured asparagus, kale, broccoli, peppers, chard, pears and damsons, and different varieties of apple every week during the season, picked in a 10 mile radius of Charlbury, these include rare varieties such as Russets, Spartan, Discovery, Lady Henniker and Lextons Superb as well as more familiar names such as Golden Delicious. ‘Our customers were very happy, and we are hoping to increase our shares to 75 next spring,’ says Emma.
For now though, it was all about preparing for winter.
In September, Emma and Dan worked with a homeschool group of fifteen children, aged between 4-10 years old, who helped to harvest the squash. They harvested 150, enough for three weeks of the share. The children loved to see how the basil, tomatoes and squash were grown and they also helped to prepare the polytunnel for lettuces. This involved ripping out the tomato plants, so the children learned how to take the plant up, shake off the good earth and take them out without getting tangled up in the strings. They all brought a picnic so learned about leaving no trace, and went home with tomatoes and a recipe for green tomato chutney and hedgerow fruit leathers.
Food over the winter is mainly salad, but on the field scale the plan was to grow leeks in February, with cavolo nero, and cabbages, plus flower sprouts, which are a combination of brussel sprouts and kale. There would also be curly kale and red Russian kale.
‘There’s plenty to keep us busy,’ says Emma. ‘Dan and I usually bring lunch and stay for the day when we’re working at Honeydale. There’s so much wildlife to see. The deer are fearless and we have kestrels, kites, skylarks soaring above us. It’s a wonderful place to be.’
Wilder Flowers from the Farm
In our drive to promote diverse farming, we were delighted to welcome another microbusiness to Honeydale. Wilder are a social enterprise specialising in cottage garden style cut flowers and are part of Flowers from the Farm, a growing network of artisan flower farmers across the UK.
A year ago Helen Pooley and Sophie Heneage secured the use of a small plot of land in the Gloucestershire village of Broadwell. Their signature style of natural arrangements featuring wildflowers, cottage garden blooms, plants from the hedgerows, berries and grasses has proved very popular, selling at North Parade Market in Oxford and increasingly requested for Cotswold weddings and parties.
‘The idea with our arrangements is to bring nature and the wild outdoors inside, evoking the feel of a country walk,’ explains Helen.
Sophie and Helen had been busy preparing their plot at Honeydale, erecting a greenhouse and a selection of hardy annuals are ready to go in the ground for harvesting next year. The plan is for Wilder bouquets to incorporate the borders, shrubs and trees that are already growing around the farm. ‘We want to use what’s already there,’ says Sophie. ‘Honeydale is such a wonderful environment for us, with such a wealth of diverse plants, trees and hedgerows, and inspiring natural beauty.’
The social enterprise initiative will be introduced when the business has sufficiently established. There’s a real shortage of gardeners in the UK with the job failing to attract today’s youngsters, so the aim is to offer opportunities and horticultural training to equip those who would otherwise struggle to find work with the skills to secure to real employment.
‘We absolutely love doing what we’re doing,’ says Sophie. ‘And we’re so excited to be involved in the growing community at Honeydale Farm, and to be able to take Wilder to the next level.’
Trials and Experiments
Over the year, we worked with various organisations and researchers on a series of ongoing crop trials and experiments at FarmED.
Diverse Forages Project (SARIC)
We are glad to be one of twelve satellite farms involved in the Diverse Forages Project, experimenting with a range of forage mixtures with different levels of diversity, to determine which provides the best forage and range of benefits for the soil, environment and livestock production.
This is a joint initiative spearheaded by Reading University, Rothamsted Research (North Wyck) and Duchy College Cornwall. Data is being collected from the monoculture, six, twelve and seventeen species mixtures which will be compared to fertilised perennial ryegrass (Control) at the multiple sites over a five year period (2016-20).
The first 2 years focused on establishment, grazing management and species composition, and in the third year (2018), more detailed work was carried out. This focussed on how the properties of the different forages affected livestock at Reading University Farm. Data on Angus steers was assessed during grazing over spring, summer and autumn. Analysis would continue over winter 2019, when they were being fed conserved haylage from the three mixtures and the ryegrass control.
During the droughts of 2018 it was interesting to monitor the performance of two drought tolerant legumes - sainfoin and lucerne. Usefully planted side by side in the same field in 2015, we noticed that while the sainfoin provided one big high quality hay cut in June, the lucerne had shown extremely good regrowth characteristics after cutting.
Wild Bird Seed Mixture Study
This trial involved observing a range of seed mixtures planted during spring, to assess the cover provided for game birds and wildlife, and how much feed they produce in the form of seed bearing species. These species include red and white millet, radish, mustard and various cereals.
As part of this work, an area of fennel was established next to these mixtures. This biannual forage herb is said to be particularly attractive to partridge. The fennel plot will be monitored for its winter hardiness, the type of cover it provides and how sections respond to being topped throughout the year for annual weed control.