Here is a brief update from Black Grove Farm CSA in Colliers End. In my last article, I introduced myself and my partner Jon as new entrants to farming and in the process of setting up a sustainable, community and educational farm on 20 acres of land in this community. We named it after the ancient coppice woodland which forms a spine to our uphill pasture.
I hope to share the joys and challenges of our journey as well as an insight into the practicalities of our lives ‘learning on the job’. There has been some great news this month…to find out please read on.
March has brought signs of spring; willow blossom, Alder and Hazel catkins, wild primroses, and nettles! We have been out foraging and experimenting with natural dyes for our fleeces. Nettle tea and primrose wraps have been on the menu! Nettle makes a beautiful green dye and the Alder catkins produces yellow. Our neighbour has never seen primroses out so early and puts it down to a very mild winter.
We are preparing for our first lambing experience. I am nervous and excited! I’ve joined the facebook group ‘ladies who lamb’. Who knew?? Its full of gruesome stories and warnings as well as expert advice from women shepherds all over the country, both hobby and large scale farmers. We have the elbow length gloves and milk bottles amongst other things and are setting up our pens with hurdles. We have been really struggling with shortage of grass. Our aim is to keep our sheeps outdoors on grass all year and supplement with beet and hay when required but this is our first winter and have miscalculated. Finally we have realised the value of hay! It’s only when we have to pay for it by the bale that we understand how much fuss is made about saving the hay by experienced farmers.
For 2020, our grazing strategy will be tweaked so that there is enough forage when the grass stops growing so much between November and March (when it’s under 5 degrees outside).
We have 9 Easycare Sheep who have been bred to be exactly that…to lamb easily and be disease resistant, their coats even moalt independently so no need for shearing. We still have our Clun mules for fleeces though. They were ‘tupped’ with an Easycare ram in November to ensure that the lambs are small and we hope that will aid the ease of labour. So watch this space…and if you come down the footpath in April, there may be little spring lambs tottering around. I’ve been told that ‘Ram goes in on bonfire night and lambs come out on April Fools’ day’
The hens are back alaying and we have eggs to spare again, they are a mixed free range flock, (some literally ranging over a 3 acre patch since the storm Dennis wiped out our previous set-upp!). Its nice to have variety so we have white, speckled, brown, peach and sometimes chocolate coloured eggs. I have become the egg lady at the school run where parents have committed to taking a fixed delivery fortnightly and paying by bacs. Selling on a small scale is only possible if we sell direct and don’t have to go out of our way to do deliveries so our only choice is to find a market locally. As of April, we will provide eggs at the gate again. The cockerel is now amongst the hens well and truly and they are taking over the polytunnel. We need to get them back into their own space as they can be annoying, when they keep pooping on my seedlings and laying on the deckchairs. It would be nice to have some easter chickies though!
It’s that time again to start our seedlings and direct seed some carrots, sugarsnap peas, turnips, beetroots and radishes in the garden. Luckily we have had a massive input of energy and help with the bed prep from the community payback team who have raised up the beds again, created paths and added manure, with a real attention to detail, pride and dare i say enjoyment in their work (when it’s not raining ). We are so grateful for their help. We have also had some great news from the National Lottery! They confirmed this week that they will fund Black Grove Greens CIC which is not for profit social enterprise that we host.
It means they can run Volunteer Open Days over this summer and organically grow vegetables for sale.
We have plans to welcome local people to the garden to volunteer at whatever level they are able, to share a meal and learn yoga and mindfulness techniques to be healthy in mind and body. They are a not for profit organise whose aims are to provide healthy food to local people, tackle social isolation and enhance nature connection while building community.
This Easter holidays we will be holding some introductory open days and would love to see people here. We need help with potato planting and to mulching the no dig beds with cardboard and manure.It’s free, but if you can let us know you are coming by registering on eventbrite, the link is on our website. We will also be holding some family woodland school sessions, which you can purchase tickets for on the website. Where we will be having stories and outdoor cooking around the campfire. Spring treasure hunt, tree climbing, den making and foraging.
Dates for your diary
April 7th, 11th and 18th Black Grove greens CIC volunteer open days in the community garden. 10am till 2pm bring your wellies, water and packed lunch. Prizes for those coming by foot, bike or public transport!
April 7th, 11th and 18th Black Grove woods CIC woodland school and nature connection family drop in sessions. 9.30 till 11.30a, and 1 till 3pm. Bring wellies, water and snacks.
The farm is Off-grid, so we have a compost loo for visitors and handwashing facilities but no running water or electricity